Pompeo’s last-minute cancellation of his visit to Berlin so that he could fly to Iraq to grumble about Iran has gone over as poorly as one would expect:
Everyone knows Germans hate tardiness. But if you want to really push a Teuton over the edge, cancel a meeting at the last minute.
Just ask U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who canceled a trip to Berlin Tuesday, jilting Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
“This is difficult to excuse,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the daily bulletin of Germany’s bobo elite, seethed. What could be more “pressing” than what would have been Pompeo’s first official visit to Berlin as secretary of state, the paper wondered.
That the answer to that question, at least in Pompeo’s view, was Iran, only enraged the Germans more.
Pompeo has been putting on a clinic in how not to manage relations with allies in recent months. Relations with allies will sometimes be strained by legitimate policy differences, and allies are never going to agree on everything. The real problem with the way that Pompeo deals with allied governments is that he seems to delight in disrespecting them for no reason. Haranguing Europeans about the EU while in Brussels was tactless enough, but blowing off his first official visit to a major allied capital so that he could engage in an anti-Iranian stunt in Baghdad is doubly insulting. If there had been some genuine emergency that required Pompeo’s attention, that would have been understandable, but there was nothing so urgent that he couldn’t have kept the original schedule. The German government will reasonably conclude that a major alliance and trading relationship with Europe’s biggest economy matters much less to the Trump administration than indulging in anti-Iranian theatrics. If U.S.-German relations were poor before, they are about to become even worse.
This is not simply a matter of protocol and respect, important as those may be. It is also a matter of advancing U.S. interests through maintaining good relations with other leading powers. Germany is politically and economically one of the most important countries in the world, and a functioning, cooperative relationship with Berlin is worth a lot more to the U.S. than anything Pompeo might be doing in the Middle East. For the sake of sabre-rattling against Iran, they dismiss and disrespect a major treaty ally. Prioritizing the Iran obsession over one of our most important international relationships is the Trump administration’s destructive and reckless foreign policy in microcosm.