It’s easy to score it as yet one more major diplomatic gaffe for the Trump administration.
When a tape leaked to the Washington Post revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the United States "won’t wait" before beginning to "push back" against a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government in Britain, the howls of outrage were heard on both sides of the pond.
To most of those who read those words, the implications were clear. The administration of President Donald Trump "wouldn’t wait" until Corbyn led Labour to victory in the wake of the Brexit-induced crackup of the Conservative Party that may lead to new elections in Britain.
That the United States would announce its intentions to meddle in a general election so brazenly is shocking - even after Trump’s recent thumbs up to Boris Johnson’s efforts to succeed Theresa May as the leader of the Tories – and it was foolish.
While the United States and its European allies may think it’s their right to meddle in the affairs of smaller countries, as they have done in Israel for decades, playing that sort of game with each other is rightly considered beyond the pale.
It’s also painfully obvious that due to Trump’s unpopularity in Britain, any statements along these lines are counter-productive. Indeed, vocal opposition from Trump is a gift to Corbyn just as much as his endorsement would be a burden to Johnson or any other Conservative.
Seen in that light, Pompeo’s statement was a massive blunder that transgressed diplomatic norms as well as undermining the U.S. policy objectives - keeping Corbyn out of power - he seeks to achieve.
But there are two problems with filing this story alongside other Trump administration stumbles.
One is that the claim that Pompeo vowing to intervene in U.K. politics has been taken out of context, and a fair interpretation of what he said doesn’t back up the belief that the U.S. is planning to forestall a Corbyn government by fair means or foul.
The other is that the United States shouldn’t be the only foreign nation expressing alarm about the possibility of a Corbyn government. Nor is there any moral or realpolitik argument to be made in favor of the rest of the West standing mutely by, as Britain contemplates putting its fate into the hands of a confirmed opponent of the Western alliance, and the values it upholds, who is also an anti-Semite.
As for the context of the Pompeo statement, it’s far from clear that he was warning of a plan to intervene in a British election.
What he did do was to answer a question from an anonymous American Jewish leader who posed a frightening hypothetical to the secretary of state. The person who asked the question referenced the Labour Party’s troubling recent history of tolerance for anti-Semitism and Corbyn’s record of indifference to the problem, as well as his actions and gestures that expressed support for Islamist terrorists who work for Israel’s destruction.
This question was posed: "If Corbyn is elected, would you be willing to work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the U.K.?"
According to the Washington Post, Pompeo’s response was to say: "It could be that Mr. Corbyn manages to run the gantlet and get elected. It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best," he said to fervent applause from attendees. "It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened," he said.
Read in context, it’s just as easy to see it as a pledge to warn Corbyn to avoid anti-Semitic actions and statements, and not to act in such a way as to make life difficult for British Jews, rather than a threat to intervene in an election.
But whether you are willing to jump to the conclusion that Trump and Pompeo would try to stop Corbyn from ever gaining the power to endanger Jewish life, there is a difference between an injudicious statement and one that is morally wrong.
What Pompeo said might well have been the former but it is not the latter.
That Britain might well be soon led by a man who has honored terrorists who shed the blood of Jewish innocents, and has no interest in disassociating himself or his party from anti-Zionist invective that is indistinguishable from anti-Semitism, is a shocking state of affairs.
But the idea that it is either moral or good policy for the United States or any other Western ally to be indifferent to the possibility of Corbyn taking a seat on the front benches in Westminster is indefensible.
On his watch and with his active encouragement, Labour has gone from being a skeptical friend and sometime critic of Israel to a party where open opposition to the existence of a Jewish state and indifference to expressions of hostility to Jews is normative.
A Corbyn government that countenanced and even encouraged anti-Semitism would be something unique in the postwar era in Western Europe and the idea that it would be morally comparable to a Trump administration that, for all of its alleged shortcomings, has condemned and fought against anti-Semitism, and is close to Israel, is absurd.
It is the moral obligation of all the leaders of the Western alliance to warn Corbyn that they would treat actions that created a hostile environment for British Jews as unacceptable and that there would be consequences should he act in that manner. A stance that regarded such an outrage as no one else’s business would be a reminder of an earlier tragic era in European history that must not be repeated.
Rather than lashing out at Pompeo for inept diplomacy, sensible Brits should treat what he said about threats to Jews as a wakeup call about the consequences of a Corbyn government.
But if Labour voters are so immersed in hatred for Trump as well as antipathy for Israel and Jewish sensibilities that they regard what he said as an insult, rather than a fair warning, then the situation in the U.K. may be worse than we thought.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS (the Jewish News Syndicate) and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin
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