Pom­peo slams Obama’s ‘mis­judg­ment’ in Mideast

Asks re­gion’s al­lies to help iso­late Iran

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo laid out a sweep­ing vi­sion for U.S. pol­icy in the Mid­dle East, us­ing a ma­jor speech Thurs­day in Egypt to re­as­sure al­lies of Amer­ica’s stay­ing power as a “lib­er­at­ing force” to blast the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to com­bat­ing rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism and to call on states in the re­gion to join the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s push to iso­late the “com­mon en­emy” of Iran.

Speak­ing at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity in Cairo, Mr. Pom­peo framed the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy as a “new be­gin­ning” after an era of “re­treat” and “mis­judg­ment” un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Mr. Pom­peo said that mis­guided ap­proach re­sulted in the 2015 Iran nu­clear deal that Mr. Trump de­fi­antly re­pu­di­ated last year.

The sec­re­tary of state de­liv­ered the

ad­dress amid mount­ing ques­tions over Pres­i­dent Trump’s pol­icy after his sur­prise an­nounce­ment last month of an im­mi­nent with­drawal of U.S. troops in Syria who had been bat­tling rem­nants of the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group.

Mr. Pom­peo and other Trump aides have been strug­gling to clar­ify the time frame, the con­di­tions and the ra­tio­nale be­hind the with­drawal ever since that an­nounce­ment.

While never men­tion­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama by name, Mr. Pom­peo ex­plic­itly framed his re­marks as a re­but­tal to Mr. Obama’s high-pro­file ad­dress to the Mus­lim world in Cairo shortly after he took of­fice in 2009.

The sec­re­tary of state called on Arab al­lies to “shoul­der new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for de­feat­ing Is­lamic ex­trem­ism” and in­sisted that Wash­ing­ton is now com­mit­ted to tak­ing a far more as­sertive role — specif­i­cally to­ward con­tain­ing Iran.

Mr. Pom­peo said the 2015 Iran deal that Mr. Obama helped ne­go­ti­ate showed that “when we part­ner with en­e­mies, they ad­vance.” Wash­ing­ton has “learned that when Amer­ica re­treats, chaos often fol­lows,” he said.

Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Zarif quickly mocked Mr. Pom­peo’s re­marks on Twit­ter. “When­ever/wher­ever [the U.S.] in­ter­feres, chaos, re­pres­sion and re­sent­ment fol­low,” he tweeted. “The day Iran mim­ics U.S. clients & @SecPom­peo’s ‘hu­man rights mod­els’ — be it the Shah or cur­rent butch­ers — to be­come a ‘nor­mal’ coun­try is the day hell freezes over.”

Mr. Pom­peo gave the speech on the third leg of a nine-na­tion Mid­dle East tour aimed in part at re­as­sur­ing Amer­ica’s Arab part­ners that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is not walk­ing away from the re­gion de­spite the Syria de­ci­sion.

He said the U.S. has no plans to oc­cupy Arab lands but noted that Mr. Trump — un­like Mr. Obama — has not hes­i­tated to use force di­rectly to de­fend U.S. in­ter­ests, no­tably against the regime of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad for its sus­pected use of chem­i­cal weapons.

“Pres­i­dent Trump un­leashed the fury of the U.S. mil­i­tary not once, but twice, with al­lied sup­port” in Syria, Mr. Pom­peo said. “And he’s will­ing to do it again, although we do hope that he does not have to.”

Mr. Pom­peo re­jected ar­gu­ments that a U.S. troop pull­out will hand vic­tory to Iran and its prox­ies back­ing Mr. As­sad in Syria’s civil war.

“The United States will use diplo­macy and work with our part­ners to ex­pel every last Ira­nian boot and work through the U.N.-led process to bring peace and sta­bil­ity to the long-suf­fer­ing Syr­ian peo­ple,” he said. “There will be no U.S. re­con­struc­tion as­sis­tance for ar­eas of Syria held by As­sad un­til Iran and its proxy forces with­draw and un­til we see ir­re­versible progress to­wards a po­lit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion.”

New ‘strate­gic al­liance’

Although other world pow­ers con­tinue to sup­port the Iran nu­clear deal, Mr. Pom­peo said “na­tions are ral­ly­ing to our side to con­front Iran like never be­fore.”

He echoed Mr. Trump’s ar­gu­ments that the 2015 deal had only em­bold­ened Tehran to pur­sue desta­bi­liz­ing be­hav­ior such as in­creased bal­lis­tic mis­sile test­ing and the back­ing of mil­i­tant prox­ies around the Mid­dle East.

Mr. Pom­peo touted the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s push to “es­tab­lish the Mid­dle East Strate­gic Al­liance to con­front the re­gion’s most se­ri­ous threats and bol­ster en­ergy and eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion.” Although he did not ex­plic­itly say its fo­cus would be to counter Iran, U.S. of­fi­cials have sug­gested on back­ground brief­ings that it would be a core goal.

Of­fi­cials have also said a key tenet of the push is to end the nearly 2-yearold diplo­matic stand­off that pits Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates and Egypt against Qatar over claims that it is too closely aligned with Iran, sup­ports the Mus­lim Brother­hood and turns a blind eye on ter­ror­ism fi­nanc­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Re­tired U.S. Gen. An­thony Zinni, Mr. Trump’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive seek­ing an end to the feud, quit in frus­tra­tion this week.

Mr. Pom­peo did not di­rectly men­tion the feud but called on the re­gion’s Arab pow­ers to “take the next step and help us so­lid­ify” the strate­gic al­liance.

Trump vs. Obama

The sec­re­tary of state roundly blamed the for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion for mis­un­der­stand­ing the rev­o­lu­tions that rocked the re­gion in re­cent years. He said Mr. Obama and his ad­vis­ers dan­ger­ously un­der­es­ti­mated the threat that Is­lamic ex­trem­ists would ex­ploit the pro-democ­racy move­ments of the Arab Spring.

“At this crit­i­cal mo­ment, Amer­ica, your long­time friend, was ab­sent too much,” he said. “Why? Be­cause our lead­ers gravely mis­read our his­tory and your his­tor­i­cal mo­ment.

“It was here, here in this city, that an­other Amer­i­can stood be­fore you,” Mr. Pom­peo said. “He told you that rad­i­cal Is­lamist ter­ror­ism does not stem from an ide­ol­ogy. He told you that 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.’

“The re­sults of these mis­judg­ments have been dire. In falsely see­ing our­selves as a force for what ails the Mid­dle East, we were timid in assert­ing our­selves when the times and our part­ners de­manded it. We grossly un­der­es­ti­mated the te­nac­ity and vi­cious­ness of rad­i­cal Is­lamism — a de­bauched strain of the faith that seeks to up­end every other form of wor­ship or gov­er­nance.”

The Is­lamic State, he said, sub­se­quently “drove to the out­skirts of Bagh­dad as Amer­ica hes­i­tated. They raped and pil­laged and mur­dered tens of thou­sands of in­no­cents.”

The un­usu­ally blunt at­tack by a sec­re­tary of state on a pre­vi­ous Amer­i­can pres­i­dent brought a sharp re­sponse from a group of for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy aides work­ing for a group known as Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ac­tion.

“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 group said in a state­ment.

Rob Mal­ley, who was Mr. Obama’s na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil di­rec­tor for the Mid­dle East and is now at the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Mr. Pom­peo ap­peared to be speak­ing from a “par­al­lel uni­verse.”

“Back on Planet Earth,” he added, Arab au­di­ences “will see it for what it is: a self-con­grat­u­la­tory, delu­sional de­pic­tion of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Mid­dle East pol­icy.”

Mr. Pom­peo, mean­while, ap­peared ea­ger to tie what he de­scribed as the for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hes­i­tant pol­icy to the rise of an in­creas­ingly em­bold­ened Iran over the past decade.

“Amer­ica’s re­luc­tance, our re­luc­tance to wield our in­flu­ence, kept us silent as the peo­ple of Iran rose up against the mul­lahs in the Green Rev­o­lu­tion,” he said in a ref­er­ence to protests that were crushed by Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties in 2009.

He said Mr. Trump’s will­ing­ness to re­in­state harsh sanc­tions on Iran’s econ­omy showed that the U.S. was not mak­ing the same mis­take.

Mr. Pom­peo also blamed the for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion for fail­ing to crush Iran-sup­ported rebels early in Ye­men’s rag­ing civil war and for ig­nor­ing the Iran­backed Hezbol­lah move­ment’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in Lebanon.

With Mr. Trump now en­ter­ing his third year in of­fice, the sec­re­tary of state said, the game has changed.

“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 …,” he said. “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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

DRAW­ING CON­TRASTS: Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, speak­ing Thurs­day at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity in Cairo, framed the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy in the Mid­dle East as a “new be­gin­ning.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo vis­ited Cairo on the third leg of a nine-na­tion Mid­dle East tour aimed in part at re­as­sur­ing Amer­ica’s Arab part­ners that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is not walk­ing away from the re­gion de­spite the Syria de­ci­sion.

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