U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, during a speech on the Middle East delivered in Cairo Thursday, praised the United States as a “force for good” in the region and blasted previous President Barack Obama’s administration for underestimating Islamic extremism and the Iranian menace.
At the heart of the speech was a scathing criticism of President Obama, particularly a 2009 speech by the former president in Cairo that attempted to bridge the gaps between the United States and the Muslim and reverse decades-old animosity towards Iran, long considered the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism by the U.S.
Referring to what he described as Obama’s foreign policy missteps, Pompeo declared:
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. In just 24 months, actually less than two years, the United States under President [Donald] Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region. We’ve learned from our mistakes. We’ve rediscovered our voice. We’ve rebuilt our relationships. We’ve rejected false overtures from our enemies.
The Trump administration is confronting “the ugly reality of radical Islam,” rather than cringing away from it like its predecessor, Pompeo argued.
He commended Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s relationship with the U.S.
Alluding to Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo, Pompeo declared:
Remember: It was here, here in this city, that another American stood before you. 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, quote, ‘a new beginning,’ end of quote.
The results of these misjudgments have been dire. … 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.
America’s “reluctance to wield our influence” in response to certain Middle East threats allowed Iran’s influence to grow, he said.
To secure approval of the controversial Iran nuclear deal that U.S. President Donald Trump canceled last year, the Obama administration “derailed” a DEA operation targeting Hezbollah’s multi-million-dollar drug trafficking activities in Latin America, Politico reported in December 2017.
Pompeo chastised Obama for not keeping his “red line” promise to retaliate if the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on its own people. Assad repeatedly violated Obama’s “red line” remarks.
The secretary noted that President Trump has twice responded with military force to Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
“For those who fret about the use of American power, remember this: America has always been, and always will be, a liberating force, not an occupying power,” he said. “We’ve never dreamed of domination in the Middle East. Can you say the same about Iran?”
On Tuesday, Pompeo embarked on a tour of mainly Middle Eastern countries, with a surprise stop in Baghdad.
The top diplomat planned to visit Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait. He is expected to assuage U.S. allies’ concerns over the United States military planned withdrawal from Syria as well as sustain pressure against Iran and urge support for the Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL) lasting defeat.
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.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton recently indicated that a residual force will remain in Syria post-major withdrawal to combat Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Although Pompeo applauded also “President Sisi’s efforts to promote religious freedom,” Christian advocacy groups like Coptic Solidarity has noted that there has been an increase in violent attacks at the hands of Islamic extremists under the Egyptian leader’s watch.
ISIS’ branch in Egypt, known to target the country’s Coptic Christian minority, is the “most lethal” jihadi group in the African country, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported in September of last year, noting that the Sisi administration is actively combating the group.