In Egypt, Pom­peo takes on Obama, Iran

The sec­re­tary of State is crit­i­cal of what he deems pol­icy er­rors in the Mid­dle East.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Tracy Wilkin­son tracy.wilkin­son @la­times.com

CAIRO — Sec­re­tary of State Michael R. Pom­peo on Thursday used a key­note ad­dress in the Egyp­tian cap­i­tal to take aim at two fa­vorite tar­gets — Iran and for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama — as he sought to re­as­sure Mid­dle East al­lies of Wash­ing­ton’s com­mit­ment to the re­gion.

“In just 24 months, 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,” Pom­peo said in an ad­dress at Cairo’s Amer­i­can Univer­sity.

“We have redis­cov­ered our voice. We have re­built our re­la­tion­ships.”

Pom­peo is on a nine-na­tion swing through the Mid­dle East and the Per­sian Gulf to al­lay al­lies’ con­cerns af­ter Trump abruptly an­nounced the with­drawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

Many in the re­gion fear the U.S. dis­en­gage­ment will bol­ster Iran, which has gained ter­ri­tory in Syria in what en­e­mies like Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia see as a grow­ing threat.

Ahead of the speech, Pom­peo met with Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Sisi and For­eign Min­is­ter Sameh Shoukry, whom he praised as firm part­ners in fight­ing ter­ror­ism.

Egypt is one of the top re­cip­i­ents of U.S. aid, in­clud­ing the sale of tons of ar­ma­ments. Un­der Sisi, how­ever, Egypt also has one of the most egre­gious hu­man rights records in the re­gion, with hun­dreds of dis­si­dents killed and thou­sands jailed.

Speak­ing briefly to re­porters, Pom­peo sidestepped the is­sue of hu­man rights, say­ing he had raised the “panoply” of con­cerns but de­clined to crit­i­cize the Egyp­tian govern­ment or en­ter into specifics.

Sisi is one of the au­to­cratic strong­men for whom Trump has ex­pressed un­abashed ad­mi­ra­tion.

Since Trump last year with­drew the United States from the land­mark Iran nu­clear deal, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has not hes­i­tated to por­tray the Is­lamic Repub­lic as the world’s most evil pro­po­nent of ter­ror­ism. Pom­peo on Thursday said Iran was the “great­est threat of all in the Mid­dle East.”

By giv­ing the speech in Cairo close to 10 years af­ter Obama’s ground­break­ing and well-re­ceived ad­dress in the same city, Pom­peo in­vited com­par­i­son be­tween the two ad­min­is­tra­tions’ very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to the Mus­lim world.

Obama on June 4, 2009, in­voked the Ko­ran and ex­tolled the virtues of Is­lam and the po­ten­tial for re­la­tions be­tween the faith and Amer­ica. Pom­peo took a more ag­gres­sive tone, and he sug­gested Obama was weak in coun­ter­ing the threat of rad­i­cal Is­lam.

“Re­mem­ber: It was here, in this very city, an­other Amer­i­can stood be­fore you,” Pom­peo said. “He told you that rad­i­cal Is­lamist ter­ror­ism doesn’t stem from ide­ol­ogy. He told you [the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of] 9/11 led my coun­try to aban­don its ideals, par­tic­u­larly in the Mid­dle East.

“He told you that the United States and the Mus­lim world needed ‘a new be­gin­ning,’ ” Pom­peo said. “And the re­sults of these mis­judg­ments were dire.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­peat­edly blames Obama for the rise of Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in part be­cause of the de­ci­sion to with­draw most troops from Iraq. And Trump and his ad­vi­sors claim credit for com­bat­ing the group and dis­man­tling most of the so-called caliphate it built across large swaths of Iraq and Syria. How­ever, the suc­cess in fight­ing Is­lamic State has come in the fi­nal phase of a mil­i­tary cam­paign launched un­der Obama.

“We grossly un­der­es­ti­mated the tenac­ity and vi­cious­ness of rad­i­cal Is­lamism,” Pom­peo said.

“The age of self-in­flicted Amer­i­can shame is over, and so are the poli­cies that pro­duced so much need­less suffering,” he added.

He said that when the United States withdraws, “chaos fol­lows.” And yet that is what the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is plan­ning for Syria.

Pom­peo con­tended that the with­drawal from Syria will go ahead, de­spite nu­mer­ous con­tra­dic­tions over the plans.

Trump ini­tially said it would be im­me­di­ate, which alarmed his ad­vi­sors and drove Sec­re­tary of De­fense James N. Mat­tis to re­sign. Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, John Bolton, then said the pull­out would not hap­pen while pock­ets of Is­lamic State re­main and with­out a guar­an­tee from Turkey that it won’t at­tack U.S.-backed Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria.

Mean­while, the Pen­tagon con­tin­ues to plan for a with­drawal within 120 days.

“There is no con­tra­dic­tion what­so­ever,” Pom­peo said, ad­ding the re­ports were “made up by the me­dia.”

An­drew Caballero-Reynolds Pool Photo

SEC­RE­TARY OF STATE Michael R. Pom­peo is try­ing to al­lay al­lies’ con­cerns af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced the with­drawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

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