Trump is right, Europe is wrong, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared in a speech in Brussels Tuesday.
Pompeo, who was in Europe to attend a meeting for NATO foreign ministers, said U.S. President Donald Trump is putting America’s interests ahead of the international order but insisted that Washington was acting to the benefit of the entire world.
“We won the Cold War. We won the peace,” Pompeo declared, citing the late President George H.W. Bush‘s role in the reunification of Germany. “This is the type of leadership that President Trump is boldly reasserting.” The secretary of state also took repeated jabs at “bureaucrats” — a frontal assault in a city that employs tens of thousands of government functionaries.
Aside from two brief heckles, the audience responded with silence.
It was a remarkably undiplomatic speech by the top American diplomat, and called into question the system of international cooperation just two days after the U.S. signed on to the latest conclusions of the G20 at a summit in Buenos Aires of leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies.
“Donald Trump is returning the United States to its traditional central leadership in the world” — Mike Pompeo
“Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end to itself,” Pompeo said at the event sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States that cited “strengthening transatlantic cooperation” as its mission. “The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. Was that ever really true? The central question that we face is the question of whether the system as currently configured as it exists today, as the world exists today, does it work? Does it work for all the people of the world?”
His remarks were in striking contrast to a speech given in the same venue by Secretary of State John Kerry in October 2016 before the Obama administration left office, in which he declared, “The need for our unity is as great as ever.”
In his remarks, Pompeo pushed back forcefully on Trump’s critics in Europe. “Even our European friends sometimes say we are not acting in the world’s interest,” he said. “This is just plain wrong. Our mission is to assert our sovereignty before the international order, and we want our friends to help us and to assert their sovereignty as well. We aspire to make the international order to serve our citizens, not to control them. America intends to lead now and always.”
Later in the speech, Pompeo called the U.S. national security strategy under Trump “common sense” and insisted that only nation states can guarantee democratic freedoms — an assertion flatly contradicted by recent events in Europe where the EU has had to respond to restrictions on civil rights and the undermining of judicial norms in countries like Hungary and Poland.
“Every nation must honestly acknowledge its responsibility to its citizens and ask if the current international order serves the good of its people as well as it could and if not, we must ask how we can right it,” he said.
“This is what President Trump is doing. He is returning the United States to its traditional central leadership in the world. He sees the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. He knows that nothing can replace the nation state as the guarantor of democratic freedoms and national interests.”
The European Commission’s chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, responded to Pompeo’s barbs with a lengthy explanation about how the EU institutions function and are led by an elected parliament and elected national leaders accountable to voters. He suggested that perhaps the U.S. secretary of state is unaware of the details.
“For those people who express an opinion on our system and probably are not quite familiar with how our system is structured, let me simplify as much as I can, and I am replying to whether this is civil servants taking precedence over politics,” Schinas said, explaining how the European Commission president and other commissioners are accountable to the directly elected European Parliament. Elected heads of state or government of the 28 EU countries meet in the European Council multiple times per year, he said.
“This is a European Union with a parliament, which is elected directly by the people of Europe,” Schinas said. “In fact, this is the second-biggest election on Earth after the Indian elections,” he added, “So, so much for lack of democratic control.”
Later in his speech, Pompeo invoked the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU to question the motivation of the EU institutions in Brussels.
“Brexit if nothing else was a political wake-up call,” Pompeo said. “Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels?”
“Yes,” a man in the audience shouted at him. Pompeo ignored the heckler.
“These are valid questions,” the secretary of state continued.
At the conclusion of his formal remarks, Pompeo took no questions, and left quickly for NATO. At the back of the audience, a man shouted: “Why no questions? Why no questions?”