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Pompeo Doesn’t Know the Meaning of Restraint

For the second time this year, Mike Pompeo has tried to steal the rhetoric of “realism and restraint” to support the Trump administration’s bankrupt foreign policy. It is no more convincing this time than it was before:

Pompeo has used similar lines before in a speech he delivered at the Claremont Institute in May. The location of that speech alone reminds us that Pompeo’s references to realism and restraint are meaningless. He is trying to deceive the public that the administration’s foreign policy is one thing when it is very clearly not that. Pompeo’s constant lying on behalf of Trump’s foreign policy should alert us to the trick that he is trying to play.

Realism is one of the most abused terms in foreign policy debate, and Pompeo’s attempt to hijack it on behalf of Trump is one of the more absurd abuses we have seen. In practice, the Trump administration has not made a practice of seeing the world “as it is,” but has instead sought to force dramatic political change in other countries without considering the consequences for the affected country, the surrounding region, or the U.S. Trump’s policies have been thoroughly divorced from reality, and they have been driven by ideological obsessions that have nothing to do with American security. Pompeo’s use of the rhetoric of realism is a weak attempt to rebrand a record of reckless hawkishness.

Restraint doesn’t just mean recognizing that there are limits to American power, but then there is no reason to believe Pompeo when he claims to accept those limits. The Trump administration embraces a strategy of U.S. primacy, so when Pompeo says they are guided by restraint it is just an empty rhetorical flourish. This is very much like when George W. Bush claimed to want a “humble” foreign policy while stacking his administration with hard-line and neoconservative ideologues. Perhaps the most laughable bit of is the idea that Pompeo and Trump show respect “for how other nations choose to run their affairs.” If that were true, they would not be waging economic wars on Venezuela and Iran in a vain bid to force those governments to capitulate to far-reaching U.S. demands. Incredibly, Pompeo cites the administration’s policy in Venezuela as a chief example of what he means by restraint. If it weren’t already obvious, that proves that Pompeo doesn’t know the meaning of restraint.

Advocates of restraint have made it abundantly clear that we don’t support the administration’s foreign policy, but the Trump administration keeps trying to use the rhetoric of restraint to conceal their reckless and failed policies of regime change and collective punishment. It is important that advocates of restraint challenge the administration and refuse to let them bring discredit on foreign policy restraint by associating it with them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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