Pompeo uses Obama as foil in defending current policy
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.