Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, has blamed former president Barack Obama’s “misjudged” foreign policy for the last decade of chaos in the Middle East, in a thumping speech delivered in Cairo.
Mr Pompeo’s address, which made reference to the now-famous one made by Mr Obama in the Egyptian capital at the beginning of his presidency in 2009, claimed he was too naive and “timid” when confronted with challenges posed by revolts that rocked the region.
“Remember: It was here, here in this very city, another American stood before you," Mr Pompeo told an audience of Egyptian officials, foreign diplomats and students at the American University of Cairo on Thursday.
"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.
“Our leaders gravely misread your history, and ours.”
Mr Pompeo, who is currently on a nine-nation tour intended to reassure Mideast partners that the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria was not a sign it was walking away, blamed the previous administration’s approach for what he said were ills that have consumed the region.
These, he said, included the rise of the Islamic State, as well as Iran’s increasing assertiveness, which he said was a direct result of sanctions relief granted to it under the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
In his speech, which was headed "A Force for Good: America Reinvigorated in the Middle East” and clearly targeted at a domestic audience, Mr Pompeo declared what he called the “age of self-inflicted American shame” over.
“In falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East, we were timid about asserting ourselves when the times demanded it,” he said, which many took as a comment on the US’s lack of commitment to those looking to topple despotic regimes during the Arab Spring.
The US’s top diplomat, known for his hawkish stance on Iran, said the US’s main aim was now to limit what it called Tehran’s malign influence.
He said the nuclear deal had only emboldened the Islamic Republic and allowed its continued support of Shia militias such as Hizbollah to go unchecked.
He also reiterated America’s commitment to Israel, which sees Iran as an existential threat.
But observers remarked that the Secretary of State failed to lay out a cohesive strategy for the region, and claimed he made a number of contradictory statements.
America was not interested in being an “occupying force”, Mr Pompeo claimed, but at the same time whenever its forces retreat, “chaos follows”.
He also said the US wanted to expel all Iranian troops from Syria but confirmed it would be withdrawing its own, making the prospect of achieving such a goal far less likely.
In a rebuttal to the speech, a group of mainly former Obama administration foreign policy officials rejected Mr Pompeo’s assertions as petty and weak.
"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," the National Security Action group said in a statement.
From Egypt, Mr Pompeo plans to continue on to Gulf Arab states.
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