Opinion | Secretary of State Pompeo Leaves No Bridges Unburned

While his boss approaches an infamous exit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been busily and noisily scorching the earth behind them.

Apart from a brief, boilerplate condemnation of the violence on Capitol Hill last week, Mr. Pompeo has shown little remorse or distress over it, and certainly no recognition that President Trump had a central role in inciting the mob.

But Mr. Pompeo has not been idle. Over the past week, he unleashed a series of actions whose only real purpose appears to be to make life as difficult as possible for his successor at the State Department. He put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, he plans to designate the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a foreign terrorist organization, he eased restrictions on contacts between American diplomats and Taiwan officials and he claimed that Iran is a “home base” for Al Qaeda.

All the while, Mr. Pompeo has been hyperactive on social media, issuing scores of tweets since the start of the year touting the administration’s “accomplishments” abroad. Most of these are regarded by American allies and many State Department professionals as terrible, like withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Paris agreement on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.

Some of the actions Mr. Pompeo took over the past week might be defensible, were they taken in the context of a coherent foreign policy. But coming days before a change in administration, their sole identifiable purpose is to maliciously plant obstacles — some commentators have called them time bombs or booby traps — before the incoming administration and President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for Mr. Pompeo’s successor at State, Antony Blinken, are in place.

Returning Cuba to the state-sponsor-of-terrorism list does nothing except complicate Mr. Biden’s intention to return to the search for better relations initiated by President Barack Obama and throw a sop to Trump-backing Cuban exiles in Florida.

Sanctioning the Houthis in Yemen is a transparent favor to Saudi Arabia, which has sought to defeat the rebels with a systematic bombing campaign with American support that has inflicted untold suffering to civilians. The Houthis, supported by Iran, no doubt have committed their share of crimes, but they are critical to any peaceful resolution of the brutal six-year war and, more immediately, to the delivery of food and medical supplies to a region described by the United Nations as suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Easing the longstanding restrictions on contacts between American diplomats and Taiwanese officials might be construed as a strong gesture of support for the democratic government in Taipei. But the United States has demonstrated its support in many other ways, and Mr. Biden does not need an added irritant as he assumes responsibility for the fraught and complex relationship with Beijing.

On Tuesday Mr. Pompeo declared that Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization behind the Sept. 11 attacks, had found a new home base in Iran. “They are partners in terrorism, partners in hate,” he declared without offering any evidence. Current and former officials were quick to temper and even contradict the claim, which provided Mr. Pompeo with a pretext for further demonizing Iran, a leitmotif of the administration, and made any effort by Mr. Biden to resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal more difficult.

Mr. Pompeo’s effort to leave no bridge unburned might stand him in good stead with primary voters, should he — as has been widely expected — seek higher office in the coming years. But selfishness at the expense of the national interest isn’t the mark of an honorable diplomat or a patriot.

That sentiment appears to be shared in Mr. Pompeo’s State Department, where some officials are said to be keeping discreet clocks counting down the minutes until Secretary Pompeo is a private citizen once again.

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