Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday evening March 24 that a virtual meeting of the G7 nations had been unable to agree a joint statement on tackling the coronavirus because the draft circulated by the US referred to the pandemic throughout as the “Wuhan virus”, and Secretary of State Pompeo had refused to back down in the face of objections. The following day Pompeo stated on his Twitter account: ‘With the unprecedented global challenge of confronting the Wuhan virus, cooperation with our partners is more important than ever. Our virtual G7 meeting was productive; we’ll end this crisis together and continue to promote our shared values of freedom and good governance.”
Pompeo delivered another version of his vision of shared values to allies last month at the 2020 Munich Security Conference. While President Macron chose to speak to the several hundred assembled politicians, bankers and CEOs in an hour-long dialogue with its chairman Wolfgang Ischinger, Pompeo took a few minutes to deliver a brisk speech from the podium. It was a bare 2,500 words long.
Pompeo’s speech and Macron’s dialogue appear respectively on the State Department and Elyseé websites but neither featured in the press in the weeks following the conference. The Washington Post was one of the few to acknowledge this year’s meeting had taken place, reporting that Pompeo’s key message The West is Winning ‘[was] a claim most attendees found risible…’. This may have been true, but Pompeo was speaking in earnest in a direct rebuttal of the MSC’s 2020 report, published in advance for discussion. Its title: Westlessness.
With a blood-chilling mix of bullying and bonhomie, Pompeo rejects the practised, diplomatic language in which the MSC report frames its analysis. In its place he offers something that purports to be plain-speech, the language of the Common Man traduced. It’s a point-blank refusal to engage with rueful wordplay and an angry refutation of what we used to call peaceful co-existence.
In place of the solemn spacious sounds of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Pompeo’s speech is a US Army Reveille – a wake-up call in a series of simple intact repetitive statements. No clauses. A grammar in which nothing is brought into complex relation with anything else. Take this sequence for example: Momentum is clearly on our side. We’ve got to do more. Don’t be fooled. We are in quick succession brothers, waverers, gulls. If we refuse refuge inside the first 6-word sentence, it’s a short step to the grim exhortation of sentence 2 and in no time at all we’re in the still smaller space of sentence 3, which admits no other perspective. By then we have lost all right of reply. The challenge Name me a moment when the weak and the meek have prevailed doesn’t require an answer.
Pompeo is a Tea Party Republican, a Christian evangelical, a Koch brothers man, above all an adept politician. In February, from the podium in Munich, he asserted America’s intention to protect its ‘sovereign rights’ and gave notice that it would recognise no restraint or limit. He identified enemies and invited the assembled leaders to step up: Look, I know it’s not without cost to be courageous, to stand up for our sovereignty. I get it. But it’s never been the case that this was free. He concludes with an account of his meeting with a ‘young, brave warrior’ in Ukraine, wounded in action: It reminded me that sovereignty is worth fighting for and that it’s real, that we’re all in this fight together. Until the rapture.
Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was composed in 1942 at the request of the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Eugene Goossens. Goossens wrote to Copland:
"Its title is as original as its music, and I think it is so telling that it deserves a special occasion for its performance. If it is agreeable to you, we will premiere it 12 March 1943 at income tax time". Copland's reply was "I [am] all for honoring the common man at income tax time".
They agree ‘income tax time’, when the Common Man makes his contribution to the common good, is a moment in the year worth marking. In 2018, tax evasion in the US was estimated at $600 billion dollars and Pompeo’s mentors, the Koch brothers, feature prominently in lists of corporate evaders and avoiders. An IRS investigation into Bill Koch’s tax affairs was called off by Trump when he was elected in 2016, while his brothers David and Charles, who keep billions in tax havens like Luxembourg, have stated they support the abolition of all taxation.
The FBI kept Copland under surveillance for most of his life – as well as honouring the ordinary American at income tax time he opposed American militarism. He was investigated for Communist sympathies during the McCarthy period and was blacklisted.
The following statement is taken from Confidential Informant T-24’s testimony to the FBI in 1949:
COPLAND then went on to say that he is convinced that the present policies of the United States Government will lead us eventually into a third World War and claimed that there is a concerted effort on the part of the press and radio to convince the American people that nothing remains for us to do but make a choice between two diametrically opposed systems of thought.
At the MSC 2020 there were leaders and politicians prepared to think otherwise, as the closing paragraphs of their report made clear:
“…The West should be able to defend the international liberal order while accepting that global power shifts will bring competing models with which the liberal order will have to co-exist.”
Defending ‘the international liberal order’ has cost countless lives over the last 30 years, but this apparent commitment to stopping short of a third World War is worth taking seriously. If, as some expect, Pompeo runs for the presidency in 2024, we may find that it is all that stands between us and the fulfilment in flames of his prophecy: The West Will Win.
This piece was originally published in the April edition of Splinters.