‘Ex­pel every last Ira­nian boot’

The ay­a­tol­lahs’ sup­port for ter­ror­ism con­tin­ues un­abated


US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo has used a speech in Cairo to rally the Arab world against Iran, cast­ing the Is­lamic Repub­lic as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s top con­cern in the re­gion at a piv­otal mo­ment in USMid­dle East re­la­tions.

His ad­dress at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity yes­ter­day comes as he tries to re­as­sure US al­lies rat­tled by Don­ald Trump’s sud­den de­ci­sion last month to with­draw troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

In the speech en­ti­tled “A Force for Good: Amer­ica’s Rein­vig­o­rated Role in the Mid­dle East”, Mr Pom­peo of­fered a re­but­tal of the no­tion the planned with­drawal from Syria sug­gested the US was aban­don­ing the re­gion.

“Let me be clear: Amer­ica will not re­treat un­til the ter­ror fight is over,” he said.

He vowed the US “will use diplo­macy and work with our part­ners to ex­pel every last Ira­nian boot” from Syria.

His re­marks re­flected the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s broader ef­fort to cast Iran as an ob­sta­cle to peace and pro­mote the US as the pre­ferred part­ner for pros­per­ity in the re­gion.

“The na­tions of the Mid­dle East will never en­joy se­cu­rity, achieve eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, or ad­vance the dreams of their peo­ple if Iran’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary regime per­sists on its cur­rent course,” he said.

Iran has in­creased its in­volve­ment in re­gional con­flicts, pro­vid­ing mil­i­tary sup­port to the As­sad regime in Syria and to Shia-led mili­tias al­lied with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment com­bat­ing Is­lamic State. Iran also has al­liances with Hezbol­lah in Le­banon, Ha­mas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The speech in­cluded a di­rect as­sault on a sim­i­lar ad­dress given by for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Cairo in 2009, in which in he spoke of “a new be­gin­ning”, call­ing for an open­ing to­ward Mus­lims through tran­scend­ing stereo­types and re­solv­ing con­flicts in the wider Mid­dle East.

Mr Pom­peo ar­gued Mr Obama, to whom he didn’t re­fer by name, had mis­judged the rev­o­lu­tions of the 2011 Arab Spring that top­pled dic­ta­tors across the re­gion and set in mo­tion a set of con­tin­u­ing con­flicts. The les­son from the Obama era, Mr Pom­peo said, was that: “When Amer­ica re­treats, chaos often fol­lows. When we ne­glect our friends, re­sent­ment builds. And when we part­ner with en­e­mies, they ad­vance.

“The good news is this: The age of self-in­flicted Amer­i­can shame is over, and so are the poli­cies that pro­duced so much need­less suf­fer­ing. Now comes the real ‘new be­gin­ning’. In just 24 months, ac­tu­ally less than two years, the United States un­der Pres­i­dent Trump has re­asserted its tra­di­tional role as a force for good in this re­gion, be­cause we’ve learned from our mis­takes.”

Un­like Mr Obama’s speech in 2009, Mr Pom­peo didn’t in­clude a broad call for democ­racy and civil rights, in­stead urg­ing the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment to “pro­mote a free and open ex­change of ideas”. The ad­min­is­tra­tion hopes to mo­bilise Gulf Arab states and al­lies such as Egypt and Jor­dan to con­front Iran in an ag­gres­sive ap­proach that has been a cor­ner­stone of Mr Trump’s for­eign pol­icy, but Mr Pom­peo’s speech also drew crit­i­cism from for­mer US gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials for lam­bast­ing an Amer­i­can leader while over­seas.

“The speech was a shame­less at­tack be­fore a for­eign au­di­ence on an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, re­veal­ing a woe­ful gap be­tween Trump’s prom­ises (ex­pelling Iran from Syria and free­ing Iraq of Ira­nian in­flu­ence for ex­am­ple) and the means to achieve them,” Martin Indyk, a for­mer spe­cial en­voy on Mid­dle East is­sues dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, said.

“In that sense, he re­peated Obama’s mis­take in his Cairo speech 10 years ago—mak­ing prom­ises that can­not and will not be ful­filled.”

Iran’s rul­ing ay­a­tol­lahs would be fool­ish to ig­nore the forth­right warn­ing in US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo’s land­mark ad­dress in Cairo on the fu­ture of Amer­ica’s Mid­dle East pol­icy un­der Don­ald Trump. Speak­ing at the same uni­ver­sity where, in a ma­jor pol­icy speech nine years ago, Barack Obama held out the his­toric olive branch to Tehran which led to the 2015 nu­clear deal, Mr Pom­peo left no doubt about the ex­tent to which US pol­icy in the re­gion has changed.

Wash­ing­ton, Mr Pom­peo de­clared, was com­mit­ted to “ex­pel every last Ira­nian boot” from Syria where, in al­liance with Rus­sia, Tehran, in its drive for re­gional hege­mony, has been prop­ping up the mur­der­ous As­sad regime. With­out men­tion­ing Mr Obama by name, Mr Pom­peo heaped scorn on the for­mer pres­i­dent’s “mis­guided” think­ing on the use of mil­i­tary force and re­luc­tance to call out “rad­i­cal Is­lam”. That was a ref­er­ence to Mr Obama’s pref­er­ence for the term “vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism” when re­fer­ring to Is­lamist ter­ror­ism and his call for an “open­ing to­wards Mus­lims” that would “tran­scend stereo­types”.

“Re­mem­ber: it was here, here in this very city, an­other Amer­i­can stood be­fore you … he told you that rad­i­cal ter­ror­ism does not stem from ide­ol­ogy. He told you 9/11 led my coun­try to aban­don its ideals in the Mid­dle East,” Mr Pom­peo said as he ar­gued Mr Obama had mis­judged the Arab Spring up­ris­ings. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Mid­dle East pol­icy, he said, was an ex­am­ple of “what not to do”, whether in strik­ing the nu­clear deal or aban­don­ing long-time ally Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ruler, al­low­ing him to be brought down by an upris­ing or­ches­trated by the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood.

With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight it is easy to crit­i­cise Mr Obama. But the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is right to fo­cus strongly on Iran’s hege­monic ag­gres­sion and sup­port for ter­ror­ism, mak­ing it clear it will not be tol­er­ated. Tehran’s sup­port for Hezbol­lah and for other ter­ror­ist groups seek­ing to de­stroy Is­rael, as well as its in­volve­ment in Syria, Yemen and even Afghanistan is the root cause of much of the con­flict across the Mid­dle East and the threat it poses to Is­rael.

The steady spread of Ira­nian ter­ror­ism was high­lighted this week when the Dutch gov­ern­ment dis­closed Iran’s in­tel­li­gence min­istry was be­hind a se­ries of po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions in The Nether­lands. The rev­e­la­tion fol­lowed sim­i­lar dis­clo­sures by Nor­way, Swe­den and France about re­cent acts of ter­ror in their coun­tries in­volv­ing Iran.

Mr Obama made a grave mis­judg­ment in con­clud­ing a nu­clear deal on the terms that he did with a rogue state so bla­tantly in­volved in ter­ror. Mr Pom­peo’s pledge to “ex­pel every last Ira­nian boot” de­serves the sup­port of US al­lies. While seem­ingly at odds with Mr Trump’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to ful­fil his elec­tion prom­ise to bring home all US troops from Syria, it demon­strates why he should be in no hurry to aban­don Syria al­to­gether.


Syr­ian refugees use makeshift rafts to move around their flooded camp at Bar Elias, Bekaa Val­ley, Le­banon, on Thurs­day

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