As I write this at 5 p.m. ET, political Twitter is in the process of being scandalized by the latest jolt to U.S. foreign policy, this time supposedly delivered by Mike Pompeo. CNBC is normally a reputable news source so you can understand why this tweet made jaws drop:
Uh, how’s that? Turkey’s a NATO ally, buddy. And although Trump is known for changing his mind, standing aside so that Turkey can bomb our friends the Kurds and then turning around and threatening to bomb Turkey would be fickle and reckless even by Trump standards.
This is how CNBC is framing Pompeo’s comments on its website too, though:
Thinkpieces have already been written in the past hour about the insane, NATO-shattering folly of America going to war with the Turks, all because of what Pompeo supposedly told CNBC this afternoon.
But what did he say, exactly?
“We prefer peace to war,” Pompeo told CNBC’s Wilfred Frost in a taped interview that aired on “Closing Bell” on Monday. “But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action.”
That’s accurate but misleading. The only way to appreciate how CNBC distorted his comments is to watch the exchange yourself, starting at 4:00 of the clip below.
“Where we see American interests at stake or fundamental norms around the world that need to be enforced, we’ll use all the powers that we have.” Sec. of State Pompeo sat down with @WilfredFrost earlier today to discuss the Turkish incursion into Syria. https://t.co/HLWfgvCyzs pic.twitter.com/I36hMtiEY3
— CNBC (@CNBC) October 21, 2019
It’s true that the anchor begins a long question by asking about Turkey and the sanctions the U.S. imposed after Erdogan ordered his invasion of Kurdish-held parts of northern Syria, an ally-vs-ally incursion. But he ends by referencing Iran’s attack on the Saudi oil fields, an enemy-vs-ally conflict . I think he meant to ask, very simply, what America intended to do if Erdogan resumed his offensive against the Kurds after the ceasefire notwithstanding the sanctions in place. What would be the next step taken by the White House to deter the Turks? What Pompeo heard, though, I think, was the reference to Iran and Saudi Arabia and took it as a general question about what America would be willing to do in that particular case and in the region generally to deter enemy powers. So he gave the standard diplomatic answer: We prefer peace, we choose nonviolent deterrents like sanctions first, but we never take the military option off the table.
Since the question began as a question about Turkey, though, and since it’s not crystal clear that Pompeo misunderstood it, CNBC is selling it as the Secretary of State dangling a threat of military strikes on a NATO partner. Er, he is not. In fact, if you watch the last minute or so of the clip, Pompeo reiterates that we disagree with NATO allies all the time on foreign policy (e.g., the Iran nuclear deal) but we nonetheless put aside our differences to work on matters of shared interest. Does that sound like a guy who’s ready to bomb a NATO country because they won’t call off an invasion which the president has spent the better part of a week defending, claiming that all Erdogan wants is to “clean out” Kurdish terrorists from the border area?
It’s silly to chastise the White House for things they haven’t said or done when there’s so much that they have said or done that deserves chastisement. For instance, the Pentagon is reportedly now so worried about Trump blindsiding them with orders for instant withdrawals for which the military is unprepared that they’ve begun drawing up contingency plans for a full evacuation of Afghanistan within weeks just in case the word comes down. Why not an orderly withdrawal with plenty of lead time for the Defense department to do things the right way? Because you never know what mood might strike the president on a given day. We can safely rule out a “bomb Turkey” mood striking him, though. At least anytime soon.