Mike Pompeo’s double standard – opinion

Above the Fold: This secretary of state has decided to carry on as usual.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
One way to evaluate the success of a United States secretary of state is to calculate the number of miles logged and days on the road. Much like a fundraiser or someone in sales, the secretary of state hits the road to properly sell the United States and represent its interests around the world.
As nice as his Foggy Bottom office is, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo needs to travel and he needs to press the flesh. So what’s a secretary of state supposed to do in the age of COVID-19? How is he supposed to carry out the traditional duties of his office when shaking hands is verboten and travel is, at best discouraged, and more often prohibited?
This secretary of state has decided to carry on as usual. He is proceeding to ply his trade as if coronavirus is not the life-altering pandemic we all know it to be. And that’s how Mike Pompeo comes to be in Jerusalem for a whirlwind visit. Every visit he makes is whirlwind. In that respect, this visit is no different than any of his pre-corona trips to Israel or anywhere else.
According to State Department Press Secretary Morgan Ortagus, the meeting with Israeli leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz is to “discuss US and Israeli efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence.” 
They’re not publicizing it, but it is inevitable that they also speak about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intention to annex the West Bank and President Trump’s previous public endorsement of the annexation.
But why? Why make the trip?
Netanyahu and Trump have an excellent and warm relationship. They speak frequently and enjoy speaking with one another. Trump takes Netanyahu’s calls. There is almost no need for the secretary of state who would normally function as an intermediary between Israel and the US president to step in now. 
The customary chain of command goes like this: When the president of the United States and his team have a message for Israel, the message is sent to the secretary of state, who then either informs the prime minister of the message or asks the US ambassador to Israel to pass on the message.
That’s the customary chain. But that model is broken between Trump and Netanyahu.    
This US president and this Israeli prime minister pick up the phone and talk. And that’s what should be happening now – especially now.
In the heat of the coronavirus pandemic, given the risks of the contagion, given the size of the secretary’s team, given the criteria we are all being asked to follow, and given the reason for the visit, it all seems excessive.
WITH THIS visit, Mike Pompeo will violate a rule that every Israeli – and every person aching to visit Israel – knows. If you travel to Israel you go into quarantine for 14 days. Period, end of discussion. Or so we thought.
So what if the US State Department has explained that the team and the secretary will be following specific protocols and preserving the six-foot social-distancing policy, or the “bubble of six feet or more” as they put it?
So what if they get off their plane, have their meeting and get back on the plane? So what if they follow CDC protocols? So what if people on Pompeo’s plane will be regularly tested and screened before boarding and while on the plane, and that anyone coming near the team with be screened for COVID-19? So what?
We all know that everyone is at risk, and that no one is safe no matter how stringent one is with protocols and precautions.
How often has Netanyahu been tested and even quarantined because members of his inner sanctum have tested positive? Now a personal valet of the US president has tested positive, and the spokeswoman for Vice President Pence who, ironically, is also the spokesperson for the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, has also tested positive.
Rules are rules and they are there for everyone to follow.
This smacks of a double standard. This visit tells us that rules are there for everyone except for powerful leaders. Just like over the Passover lockdown when, almost across the board – in Israel and in the United States – political leaders had visits from their children while it was forbidden to everyone else.
What’s really going on here is something else. The White House would not be putting the secretary of state and his team and Israeli leadership at risk if they needed only to speak about the pandemic. We can only conclude that there is an important message to be delivered, a message that cannot be trusted to Zoom or Skype or WhatsApp.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling and violating Israeli protocols and US protocols and putting himself and his team at risk in order to deliver a message that is probably about the annexation.
I would venture to say that the message is an extension of an earlier message sent after Israel declared its intention to annex and the White House agreed, but then asked Israel to slow that process down. Pompeo will probably say that the White House agrees with annexation but that this is a tumultuous time.
Whether I am correct on the messaging or not, there is no doubt that the reason for the visit is the delivery of a personal message. And like hand-shaking and travel, that is the role of a secretary of state.
The author is a political commentator who hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.