Pom­peo uses Obama as foil in de­fend­ing cur­rent pol­icy

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By John Hud­son and Su­darsan Ragha­van

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo de­liv­ered a scathing re­buke of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Mid­dle East pol­icy in Cairo on Thurs­day in an ad­dress that cen­tered on ex­ert­ing max­i­mum pres­sure on Iran and dou­bling down on U.S. al­liances with Sunni au­to­crats and Is­rael.

In es­tab­lish­ing his own vi­sion for the Mid­dle East, Pom­peo set up the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as a foil for what not to do, whether it was strik­ing a land­mark nu­clear deal with Iran in 2015 or leav­ing Egypt’s au­to­cratic pres­i­dent, Hosni Mubarak, in the lurch dur­ing that coun­try’s protests in 2011.

“The United States has re­asserted its tra­di­tional role as a force for good in this re­gion,” Pom­peo told an au­di­ence at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity in Cairo. “We’ve learned from our mis­takes.”

The speech served as an ex­plicit re­but­tal of the ad­dress that Obama de­liv­ered in Cairo in 2009, ex­tend­ing an olive branch to Iran and call­ing for a two-state so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. In that ad­dress, Obama crit­i­cized Is­rael’s set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity and un­der­scored the sup­pres­sion of po­lit­i­cal rights by Arab monar­chies.

Pom­peo’s crit­i­cism of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “mis­guided” think­ing in­cluded its hes­i­tance to use mil­i­tary force and ag­gres­sively call out “rad­i­cal Is­lam.”

“Re­mem­ber: It was here, here in this very city, an­other Amer­i­can stood be­fore you,” Pom­peo said, re­fer­ring to Obama. “He told you that rad­i­cal Is­lamist ter­ror­ism does not stem from ide­ol­ogy. He told you 9/11 led my coun­try to aban­don its ideals, par­tic­u­larly in the Mid­dle East.”

It is un­clear what Pom­peo meant by the aban­don­ment of “ideals,” but Obama’s speech did take a stand against the use of “tor­ture” to in­ter­ro­gate ter­ror­ism sus­pects, as well as de­ten­tions at the U.S. prison fa­cil­ity in Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba. In terms of call­ing out rad­i­cal Is­lamists, Obama’s ad­dress re­ferred to the prob­lem of “vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism” — a term that has been crit­i­cized by Repub­li­cans as an at­tempt to be “po­lit­i­cally cor­rect.”

Pom­peo’s re­marks prompted an im­me­di­ate re­but­tal from a group of mostly Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, who called the ad­dress petty.

“That this ad­min­is­tra­tion feels the need, nearly a decade later, to take pot­shots at an ef­fort to iden­tify com­mon ground be­tween the Arab world and the West speaks not only to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pet­ti­ness but also to its lack of a strate­gic vi­sion for Amer­ica’s role in the re­gion and its ab­di­ca­tion of Amer­ica’s val­ues,” the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ac­tion group said in a state­ment.

Pom­peo, by con­trast, of­fered un­con­di­tional praise to Is­rael and cred­ited coun­tries such as Saudi Ara­bia and Bahrain for push­ing back against Ira­nian ag­gres­sion. He did not raise their hu­man rights records, in par­tic­u­lar the Saudi king­dom’s killing and dis­mem­ber­ment of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi in Oc­to­ber or the Bahrain gov­ern­ment’s sup­pres­sion of its ma­jor­ity Shi­ite pop­u­la­tion.

In­stead, he de­picted those coun­tries as vic­tims of an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that was un­will­ing to stand proudly be­hind its al­lies. “The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has moved quickly to re­build links among our old friends and nur­ture new part­ner­ships,” Pom­peo said.

Pom­peo spoke amid con­fu­sion among U. S. al­lies over Trump’s an­nounced plan to with­draw U.S. troops from Syria im­me­di­ately, a procla­ma­tion that was fol­lowed by re­marks that the with­drawal will hap­pen “slowly.”

Pom­peo said the United States would con­tinue airstrikes in the re­gion “as tar­gets arise” and con­tinue its mis­sion of over­see­ing the full de­feat of the Is­lamic State and the ex­pul­sion of Ira­nian forces from Syria, a job that an­a­lysts said would take much longer than an ini­tial 120- day U.S. time­line for with­drawal.


Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has moved to re­build links among U.S. al­lies in the Mid­dle East.

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