PARIS -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence addressed a group of European dignitaries last week at a conference in Warsaw, Poland, meant to rally support for Middle Eastern peace, and he appeared visibly shocked by the audience's reaction to parts of his speech.
"The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region and the world the peace, security and freedom they deserve," Pence said.
The vice president stopped for applause after this line -- and was met with complete silence. He visibly bristled before continuing.
What's wrong with Europeans? Why aren't they applauding the desire for peace? Perhaps because Europeans long ago learned the lesson that "peace" is often just a euphemism for more war.
From the outset, the conference was a game of semantics to mask overt enthusiasm for further armed conflict. Originally billed as a conference about Iran, it was then labeled a Middle Eastern peace conference, with "peace" obviously defined as a Middle East run entirely by America's allies: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The message was that such peace can only be achieved by bringing Iran to heel through conflict.
The usual anti-Iran activists from the Donald Trump administration were on hand in Warsaw: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Trump attorney and frequent Iranian opposition rally speaker Rudy Giuliani. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined them and capped the summit by succinctly explaining in a tweet (later deleted and walked back) what it was really all about: meeting openly with Arab-state allies "to advance the common interest of war with Iran."
So, where was noted war hawk John Bolton? How could Trump's national security adviser possibly miss an Iranian regime-change event that seemed to be right up his alley?
Turns out that Bolton may have been a bit too preoccupied with Venezuelan regime change to make it. He jumped on Twitter last week in an apparent attempt to encourage Venezuela's military to revolt.
"The international financial circle is closing around Maduro and his cronies, Bolton tweeted. "The time for the Venezuelan military to do the right thing is now. It is not too late to side with democracy, humanitarian assistance, and the future of Venezuela."
Bolton used a classic Trojan horse entry point for war: "humanitarian assistance."
More than 30 years ago, a high-ranking State Department official used a similar justification for having weapons shipped to the Nicaraguan Contras.
"Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams has defended his role in authorizing the shipment of weapons on a humanitarian aid flight to Nicaraguan rebels, saying the operation was 'strictly by the book,'" the New York Times reported in August 1987.
Go figure that Pompeo has just appointed the same Elliott Abrams from the Iran-Contra era as a special envoy to Venezuela -- and there's a controversy over Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro not allowing "humanitarian aid" shipments into the country. Where are my neon legwarmers and acid-wash jeans? It's the 1980s all over again!
It's not as if other countries couldn't supply Venezuela with boxes of humanitarian-aid goodies that don't have weapons buried in them like Cracker Jack prizes. But Maduro is sure to be ripped for not letting in "aid" from regime-change proponents.
Now if only there were a way to link Venezuela and Iran together in this regime-change refrain. Then, maybe Bolton could enjoy the convenience of tweeting about a Venezuelan coup d'etat from Iranian coup d'etat conferences.
It turns out that Pompeo has that angle covered already.
"People don't recognize that Hezbollah has active cells [in Venezuela]," Pompeo told Fox Business earlier this month. "The Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America. We have an obligation to take down that risk for America."
The problem is that when the U.S. addresses these supposed risks, it often becomes the rest of the world's problem. From Afghanistan and Syria to Libya and Yemen, Europe has had to pitch in with the cleanup and deal with the waves of refugees that result from such interventions.
Trump is already grappling with the migration problem on America's southern border. To what extent is that problem also being caused by economic sanctions and interventionist meddling in those migrants' countries? When will America stop shooting itself in the foot and actually try to foster stability in these countries instead of pretending that stability can only come about through further conflict?
These members of the Trump administration travel across the Atlantic and lecture Europeans using American-values vocabulary such as "peace, security and freedom." But when Europeans know that lurking behind such rhetoric is more war and instability, it's really not reasonable to expect applause.