Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Columnist

Mike Pompeo, who once was uncomfortably saddled with a reputation as a reasonable man, is quickly getting over that. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the secretary of state turned the question of how to respond to Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi into a partisan brawl, taking a shot at former presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, both Democrats, while denigrating those in government and the media who are understandably shocked at the murder of a Washington Post columnist.

Proximity to Donald Trump has taken a toll. How else to explain Pompeo’s use of insult to demean anyone who has insisted that Saudi Arabia pay a price for Khashoggi’s death. The Trump administration’s critics on this matter — a bipartisan group, by the way — are labeled as the “salons of Washington,” a fusty term suggesting cigars, club chairs, excessive body fat and indifference to principle.

And how do these people express themselves? By “caterwauling” in a “media pile-on,” writes Pompeo. Caterwauling suggests the screeching of a cat or the rantings of a mad man. A media pile-on suggests a mindless mob. What these terms do not suggest is genuine abhorrence at the murder of an innocent person, apparently condemned to death for the crime of political dissent. If this is caterwauling then the Bill of Right was written by a bunch of alley cats.

The media has indeed gone to town over Khashoggi’s killing. This is because it was an outrage and also because Khashoggi was one of us — as well as a U.S. resident. These reasons are legitimate. They are not, however, an attempt to use “Khashoggi’s murder as a cudgel against President Trump’s Saudi Arabia policy,” as Pompeo claims. And the administration’s critics are not “the same people who supported Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Iran.”

As Pompeo well knows, some Republican senators –the flexible Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) among them – are appalled at the way he president has handled this crisis: an inconvenience on the order of a sudden rain shower on the ninth hole. The things he has to put up with.

As Pompeo points out, it’s not as if Trump has done nothing. He barred 21 Saudis from entering the United States, presumably forcing them to shop elsewhere. Sanctions have also been applied. But what has been totally lacking is any sense of outrage. To Trump, the murder of an American resident is a mere inconvenience. He has said some of the right things, of course, but his body language has eloquently contradicted the boilerplate. He has taken the side of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he has much in common — impetuosity and a father who made it all possible, just for starters.

No one can think that the Saudi-U.S. relationship ought to be scrapped. It is integral to much of what we want to accomplish in that region — a Middle East peace, a containment of Iran and its hegemonic ambitions, and, oh yes, oil. But that does not mean that Saudi Arabia does not have to face the consequences of its brutality. It cannot remain lawless — both at home and abroad. And those who insist on some accountability ought not to be treated as political opportunists by a secretary of state who seems to have forgotten that he’s supposed to be the nation’s chief diplomat, not a partisan hack.