Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly rejected President Obama’s vision of America’s relationship with Middle Eastern nations during a speech Thursday in Cairo, the very city where, in 2009, Obama famously declared a new beginning to U.S. relations with the Muslim and Arab world.
“Remember: It was here, here in this very city, another American stood before you,” Pompeo told an invited crowd of foreign diplomats, Egyptian officials, and students. “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. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world needed ‘a new beginning.’ The results of these misjudgments have been dire.”
Pompeo went on to deride the Obama administration for a series of perceived blunders, including the failure to enforce the so-called “red line” against the use of chemical weapons by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and the negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal, which he described as “wishful thinking [that] led us to look the other way” as Hezbollah rearmed in Lebanon.
During the address, Pompeo emphasized the importance of asserting American influence through strategic partnerships with nation-state allies in the region, rather than the non-state actors the Obama administration sought to work with in Syria and elsewhere.
“Our eagerness to address only Muslims, not nations, ignored the rich diversity of the Middle East, and frayed old bonds. It undermined the concept of the nation-state, the building block of international stability,” Pompeo said. “And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.”
Pompeo is visiting nine Middle Eastern countries this week to emphasize the Trump administration’s continued commitment to the region, which has been called into question in recent weeks by a series of impromptu presidential statements and tweets announcing an immediate, total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and a partial withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.
Asked after his speech about the inherent tension between the president’s decision to leave Syria and his emphasis on expanding American influence through strategic partnerships, Pompeo told reporters that there was “no contradiction whatsoever” between the two.
“This is a story made up by the media. That’s fine, you all write what you like, but the president’s been very clear, and [national-security adviser John] Bolton and I have been very clear about this too, that the threat from radical Islamic terrorism is real,” Pompeo said in Cairo. “ISIS continues — we fight them in many regions around the country. Our commitment to prevent Daesh’s growth, ISIS’s growth, is real. It’s important. We will continue at that.”
Coaltion forces have reclaimed the vast majority of formerly ISIS-controlled territory , but there remain an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in the region who have retained a relatively small patch of land on the Syria-Iraq border.
While national security adviser John Bolton appeared to place conditions on the withdrawal of American troops from Syria last week — namely the guaranteed safety of America’s Kurdish allies from Turkish agression — Pompeo confirmed to reporters that U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Syria, but did not specify as to the timing or pre-conditions of the withdrawal.
“This is a story made up by the media. That’s fine, you all write what you like, but the President’s been very clear, and (national security adviser John) Bolton and I have been very clear about this too, that the threat from radical Islamic terrorism is real,” Pompeo told reporters. “ISIS continues — we fight them in many regions around the country. Our commitment to prevent Daesh’s growth, ISIS’ growth, is real. It’s important. We will continue at that.”