Yesterday, less than 24 hours before leaving office Mike Pompeo declared that China was commiting genocide against its Uighur population.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has declared that China is committing “ongoing” genocide against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, less than 24 hours before leaving office.

Leaving aside the details of the matter at hand, is it usual for significant geo-political statements like this to be made during the lame duck period, or more generally at the last possible moment before leaving office?


3 Answers 3


It isn't usual, but it happens, especially when the leaving administration doesn't see eye to eye with the following administration.

The last time this occurred was only just 4 years ago when President Obama fired a parting shot at Netanyahu (and Trump) by abstaining from blocking a U.N. resolution that condemned Israeli settlement plans, allowing it to pass.

Whether this was more or less a symbolic act than the recent China-example remains to be seen, but it nevertheless was widely interpreted as a final middle-finger to Netanyahu, with whom Obama had had a rather... troubled relationship.

  • 4
    "abstaining from blocking ... that condemned". So many negatives, I can't figure out what side he was on.
    – Barmar
    Jan 21, 2021 at 14:09
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    He supported the condemnation of Israeli settlement plans by abstaining rather than vetoing the aforementioned condemnation.
    – Rubydesic
    Jan 21, 2021 at 19:12

The Trump administration's (TA) use of the lame-duck period, as far as I can tell, is completely unprecedented in US politics. Other presidents have acted in ways that were arguably quite harmful to the country, but it was by doing nothing. The key examples would be the Herbert Hoover (doing nothing as the economy crashed) and James Buchanan (doing nothing as states seceded from the union). Another answer mentioned Obama not blocking a UN resolution. I would argue that these are all passive things. Obama wasn't forcing a vote to create problems for the new admin, or even voting at all. Other countries brought it up for a vote and the US did not actively block it. [Also that Netanyahu has no room at all to complain given that he basically publicly allied his party to the republicans during the election].

Trump, on the other hand, engaged in numerous proactive actions, many of which were designed to hobble the incoming Biden Admin. Federal executions have traditionally been halted during this time, the TA sped them up. But focusing on the OP's topic of diplomacy, there really isn't anything any modern US president has done that is even in the same universe as the last minute actions of the TA.

Besides the Uighur issue, there was also a huge reversal of policy with how we recognize the government of Taiwan. That is a far more sensitive to the Chinese government and can potentially cause huge issues. They also put Cuba back on the state sponsor of terror list. Usually this is a year long review process, but of course the TA did it without any review of all. One would assume because that was because there is no significant evidence at all that Cuba is guilty of things that would place them on such a list. And of course there was also actions taken towards Iran that were designed to make renegotiation with them much more difficult. And this is by no means an exhaustive list, one could go on for pages about last minute things designed to cripple the Biden Administration out the gate.

The TLDR is that while other presidents may have made their predecessors life more difficult than it needed to be, there is no comparison between what the Trump Administration did and any other modern US president, or perhaps any president in US history.

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    I don't feel like most of this answer speaks to the question. The question is about making geo-political statements. Jan 21, 2021 at 5:44
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    I suggest removing the opinion parts around adding Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The opinion there weakens the answer. If there was no review (be sure to check if you haven't), just say that, without "of course" or speculating on why they didn't do a review. Jan 21, 2021 at 9:59
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    Regarding Taiwain, I'm not sure this has really hobbled the incoming administration. If anything, it has given them a convenient way to permit something that the US generally wants (good relations with Taiwan) while allowing the incoming administration to take none of the blame. I agree with the overall answer though.
    – JBentley
    Jan 21, 2021 at 12:05
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    During the Trump administration, "unprecedented" has been the new normal.
    – Barmar
    Jan 21, 2021 at 14:11
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    This sounds more like hating on Trump than an answer to the question.
    – Ben
    Jan 22, 2021 at 13:32

The outgoing George H.W. Bush administration (the pre-Clinton Bush) sent 28,000 US troops to Somalia on December 4, 1992 - about a month after the election and about 6 weeks before Clinton was inaugurated.

If you want to see how it turned out, check out the movie "Black Hawk Down".

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    This was with full support of Congress and soon-to-be-President Clinton. Quote from NY Times the next day: "Mr. Bush gathered broad support for the intervention from top leaders of Congress, from other world leaders and from Mr. Clinton himself, and then went on television at midday to announce an operation that thrusts the United States into a new post-cold-war role as a military force on behalf of humanitarian, not strategic ends." - nytimes.com/1992/12/05/world/…
    – Sjoerd
    Jan 21, 2021 at 20:55
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    Described on "HIGFY" as "Operation Drop Clinton In It"
    – James K
    Jan 22, 2021 at 1:33
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    @jamesk, you may want to define HIGFY. If I search for it, the internet tells me I probably meant HIGNFY (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_I_Got_News_for_You) which seems like a British TV news/comedy game show, kinda like Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me on NPR radio in the US
    – Flydog57
    Jan 22, 2021 at 2:14

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