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Pompeo offers blistering rebuke of Obama’s foreign policy in Cairo speech



Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday delivered a speech in Cairo, Egypt, in which he laid out the Trump administration’s roadmap for the Middle East and ripped into former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

“The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering,” Pompeo said to an audience at American University in Cairo. “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.”

Pompeo’s speech was the antithesis of an address Obama gave in the Egyptian capital in 2009, in which the former president pledged to work toward healing the wounds he said were created by the Bush administration’s approach to counterterrorism. At the time, Obama called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.”

Read more: America’s ‘war on terror’ has cost the US nearly $6 trillion and killed roughly half a million people, and there’s no end in sight

In what was an obvious retort to Obama’s Cairo address, Pompeo on Thursday declared that “now comes the real new beginning.”

President Barack Obama delivers a speech in the Grand Hall of Cairo University June 4, 2009.
Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

‘When America retreats, chaos often follows’

Over the course of his speech, Pompeo accused Obama of breeding chaos in the Middle East by being too soft on extremism. Employing a tactic upon which Obama has often relied when rebuking President Donald Trump, the secretary of state did not mention Obama’s name once.

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

Obama refuses to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” for which Trump and other Republicans have criticized him.

Read more: Trump inherited Obama’s drone war and he’s significantly expanded it in countries where the US is not technically at war

“The results of these misjudgments were dire,” Pompeo 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.”

The secretary of state also outlined various ways in which he felt Trump’s predecessor fell short as commander-in-chief: failing to confront Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, softening the US government’s stance toward Iran, and allowing for the rise of the Islamic State group, or ISIS.

“We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows,” Pompeo said. “When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with our enemies, they advance.”

Pompeo warned of the consequences of American retreat, even as Trump seeks to withdraw the US from Syria and Afghanistan

His speech came as the Trump administration faces broad criticism over its foreign policy, particularly in relation to the Middle East.

Trump in late December announced a plan to withdraw US troops from Syria, inaccurately claiming ISIS had been defeated in the process. Shortly thereafter, James Mattis resigned as secretary of defense. Mattis had disagreed with Trump on an array of issues, especially the president’s treatment of US allies, and the Syria announcement seemed to be the last straw.

Read more: Mattis’ resignation letter is a sharp rebuke of Trump’s ‘America First’ philosophy

Trump has also pushed for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan in addition to Syria, but has flip-flopped on the process surrounding these proposed withdrawals. His administration has failed to offer a timeline or much in the way of specifics.

U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, prepare to board an MV-22 Osprey on their way to a site near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, Sept. 7, 2018.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Carlos Lopez

The Syria withdrawal announcement has prompted concerns Trump is essentially gifting the territory to Iran and Russia, and opening the door for Turkey to go after a the Kurds — fierce fighters who’ve played a vital role in combatting ISIS. Many are also concerned a US withdrawal would create a path for ISIS to make a comeback.

Pompeo commented, however, on the detrimental consequences of America retreating and the danger of “neglecting” friends.

The secretary of state’s address also came exactly 100 days after the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a columnist for The Washington Post. The Trump administration has faced significant backlash over its response to the killing, and has been accused of aiding the Saudis in a cover-up.

‘Pompeo’s speech showcases this administration’s twin obsessions: President Obama and Iran’

Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who also served on the National Security Council under Obama, was unimpressed by Pompeo’s speech.

“Pompeo’s speech showcases this administration’s twin obsessions: President Obama and Iran,” Price told INSIDER. “Nothing could be more on-brand for Pompeo and this administration than taking on a nearly decade-old speech, while completely missing its key lessons, all of which have stood the test of time despite the region’s intervening turmoil.”

Read more: Trump just radically upended US Syria policy despite repeated warnings that doing so could be disastrous

“What Pompeo also failed to recognize is that Obama’s speech was aimed at the region’s people; his own speech today was directed at its autocrats,” Price added. “That’s not to say that America shouldn’t address the world’s leaders. But Pompeo seems to have intentionally distorted the intent and audience of President Obama’s Cairo address and ignored the strategically important initiatives it spawned.”

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also promptly reacted to Pompeo’s speech, repudiating the secretary of state for his verbal attacks against Tehran.

Read more:Trump’s plan to get out of Syria is collapsing already

“Whenever/wherever US interferes, chaos, repression & resentment follow,” Zarif tweeted. “The day Iran mimics US clients & @SecPompeo’s ‘human rights models’-be it the Shah or current butchers-to become a ‘normal’ country is the day hell freezes over. Best for the US to just get over loss of Iran.”

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