In an unabashedly pro-American address in Egypt’s capital on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the United States a “force for good” in the world, and relegated former President Obama’s “misguided” Mideast policies to the dustbin of history.
“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,” Pompeo explained, without naming the former president outright. “When America retreats, chaos follows,” he said.
“America is a force for good in the Middle East,” he stated bluntly. “We need to acknowledge that truth because if we don’t, we make bad choices.”
Pompeo delivered his speech at the American University in Cairo, where almost ten years ago Barack Obama made a very different sort of speech apologizing for America’s past actions and attitudes.
The secretary blamed the former administration, and Obama in particular, for “gravely misreading” the “historic convulsions” witnessed throughout the Middle East in recent years. “At this critical moment, America, your long-time friend, was absent too much,” he said. The secretary also argued that the Obama administration “grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism.”
“These fundamental misunderstandings, set forth in this city in 2009, adversely affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Egypt and all across the region,” Pompeo told the audience of Egyptian officials, foreign diplomats, and students.
“Remember: It was here. Here in this very city, another American stood before you. 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,” he said.
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. ISIS drove to the outskirts of Baghdad as America hesitated. They raped and pillaged and murdered tens of thousands of innocents. They birthed a caliphate across Syria and Iraq and launched terror attacks that killed all across continents.
America’s reluctance, our reluctance, to wield our influence kept us silent as the people of Iran rose up against the mullahs in Tehran in the Green Revolution. The ayatollahs and their henchmen murdered, jailed, and intimidated freedom-loving Iranians, and they wrongly blamed America for this unrest when it was their own tyranny that had fueled it. Emboldened, the regime spread its cancerous influence to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria, and still further into Lebanon.
Our penchant, America’s penchant, for wishful thinking led us to look the other way as Hizballah, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime, accumulated a massive arsenal of approximately 130,000 rockets and missiles. They stored and positioned these weapons in Lebanese towns and villages in flagrant violation of international law. That arsenal is aimed squarely at our ally Israel.
When Bashar Assad unleashed terror upon ordinary Syrians and barrel-bombed civilians with sarin gas, a true echo of Saddam Hussein’s gassing of the Kurdish people, we condemned his actions. But in our hesitation to wield power, we did nothing.
Our eagerness to address only Muslims and 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. And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.
So today, what did we learn from all of this? We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with enemies, they advance.
The good news. 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. Now comes the real new beginning.
Pompeo assured his audience that America has no intention of retreating in the war on terror.
Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over. We will labor tirelessly alongside you to defeat ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other jihadists that threaten our security and yours. President Trump has made the decision to bring our troops home from Syria. We always do and now is the time, but this isn’t a change of mission. We remain committed to the complete dismantling of ISIS – the ISIS threat – and the ongoing fight against radical Islamism in all of its forms. But as President Trump has said, we’re looking to our partners to do more, and in this effort we will do so going forward together.
Pompeo was in Cairo as part of a nine-nation Mideast tour aimed at addressing concerns of American allies in the Middle East. Needless to say, his broadsides against the Obama administration were not taken well by the former president’s allies.
“It’s a speech shocking for its use of domestic politics, for kind of attacking a prior president in an international setting and for going to a long-time ally and questioning some of the foundations of the relationship with the ally,” said Heather Hurlburt, an analyst with the New America think tank. “Those are all things that secretaries of state don’t normally do but seem to becoming [sic] standard practice with Pompeo.”
The National Security Action group, a group of former Obama officials, said in a statement: “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.”
“In that parallel universe, the Arab public probably will receive it enthusiastically,” he said. “Back on planet earth, they will see it for what it is: a self-congratulatory, delusional depiction of the Trump administration’s Middle East policy.”
Malley, it should be noted, was Obama’s informal foreign policy adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign until his cozy relationship with Hamas, long classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, came to light. Israeli security officials had expressed “concern” about Malley for advocating negotiations with Hamas and providing international assistance to the terrorist group.
In 2015, Obama appointed Malley to be his czar in charge of countering ISIS.