Pompeo’s Cairo speech rejects Obama’s 2009 vision

Pompeo is in the Middle East to promote US President Donald Trump’s vision for the Middle East, particularly the importance of combatting Iran.
Thursday 10/01/2019
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, gives a speech at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, January 10, 2019. (AP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, gives a speech at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, January 10, 2019. (AP)

CAIRO - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has delivered a speech outlining the Trump administration’s Middle East policy at the American University of Cairo (AUC), repudiating a speech delivered by then-US President Barack Obama from the same venue in 2009.

“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 misjudgements have been dire,” Pompeo told a select group of Egyptian officials, foreign diplomats and students.

The US secretary of state made the pronouncement in the midst of a nine-nation regional tour of the Middle East that has seen him already touchdown in Baghdad and Cairo. He is also set to visit Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, before heading back to Washington.

Pompeo’s tour comes after US President Donald Trump said in December that Washington would be withdrawing its troops from Syria, where they have been fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). However, the Trump administration appeared to walk back that statement just weeks later following mounting pressure in Washington and the region.

“We will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary,” Trump tweeted early this week.

During his speech in Cairo, Pompeo addressed Trump’s comments. “Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over. We will labour 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,” he said. “We always do and now is the time. But this isn’t a change of mission. We remain committed to the complete dismantling of the ISIS threat and the ongoing fight against radical Islamism in all of its forms.”

Pompeo is in the Middle East to promote US President Donald Trump’s vision for the Middle East, particularly the importance of combatting Iran.

Trump made dismantling the Iran nuclear deal – otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – a major campaign promise, with Washington unilaterally withdrawing from the agreement in May last year. The US has since re-imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, including most recently on its oil exports, shipping and banking industries.

The remaining signatories of the JCPOA have looked into ways to circumvent the US sanctions, including talks of the European Union (EU) putting a special purpose vehicle (SPC) into effect. However such attempts have, so far, faltered, with many believing that the Iran nuclear deal will collapse sooner rather than later.

“President Trump has reversed our wilful blindness to the danger of the regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal, with its false promises,” he said.

“The US re-imposed sanctions that should never have been lifted. We embarked on a new pressure campaign to cut off the revenues the regime uses to spread terror and destruction throughout the world…. Countries can increasingly understand that we must confront the ayatollahs, not coddle them,” he added.

He also criticised Iranian-proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, calling on the group to withdraw from Syria and give up its missile arsenal. “Iran may think it owns Lebanon. Iran is wrong.”

Pompeo’s speech drew a clear line underscoring the different visions of the Obama and Trump administrations in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In a clear rejection of Obama’s narrative, Pompeo said: “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’s words vindicate the position of Middle East critics of the US who see Obama’s policies towards Iran and its support for the "Arab spring" uprising as having weakened the Arab world and bolstered Tehran’s expansionist designs in the region.

In the 25-minute address, Pompeo highlighted how the Trump administration has “reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region… We have rediscovered our voice. We have rebuilt our relationships. We have rejected false overtures from enemies.”