US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has launched a scathing broadside against Iran, laying out the Trump administration’s vision for the Middle East in a keynote speech at the American University in Cairo.
Pompeo on Thursday called for an end to Middle East rivalries to roll back Tehran’s influence and vowed to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria.
“It’s time for old rivalries to end, for the sake of the greater good of the region,” Pompeo said. He is on a Middle East tour to reassure allies about US plans to withdraw troops from Syria.
The United States “will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria and will bolster efforts “to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people,” he said.
Pompeo rebuked the administration of former US President Barack Obama for their “misguided” and “wishful” thinking that diminished the US’s role in the region and emboldened its main foe: Iran.
He blamed the previous administration for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and Iran’s increasing assertiveness, which he said was a direct result of sanctions relief, granted to it under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Describing the US as a “force for good” in the Middle East, Pompeo sought to reassure allies that it remained committed to the “complete dismantling” of the threat posed by the ISIL group despite Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said that Pompeo’s speech failed to resonate with Arab audiences.
His speech, which began with “America is a force of good in the Middle East”, is a marked departure from Obama’s humble speech which started with an apology, Bishara said.
“I think that’s an arrogant approach to the Middle East, telling its people who suffered millions of casualties since America’s wars in 1980,” Bishara said.
“That does not strike people in the Middle East as a humble and engaging approach.”
‘Danger of the regime’
In the speech entitled “A Force for Good: America’s Reinvigorated Role in the Middle East,” Pompeo extolled the Trump administration’s actions across the region cementing ties with traditional, albeit authoritarian governments, taking on ISIL and imposing tough new sanctions on Iran.
“President Trump has reversed our willful blindness to the danger of the regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal, with its false promises,” Pompeo said.
Iran’s foreign minister was quick to mock the US Secretary of State’s speech in which he said “when America retreats, chaos follows,” by asserting the opposite was true.
“Whenever/wherever US interferes, chaos, repression and resentment follow,” Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Since withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran last May, the Trump administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran and routinely accuses the nation of being the most destabilising influence in the region.
It has vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts what US officials describe as its “malign activities” throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, including support for rebels in Yemen, anti-Israel groups and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
While the Obama administration made the landmark nuclear deal with Iran a priority, the Trump administration is taking the opposite approach, Al Jazeera’s Bishara said.
“The Trump administration is making Iran a priority not for engagement but for conflict… sacrificing a lot of things in the region in order to make sure that they have the Middle East strategic alliance against Iran.”
Scant mention of Yemen
According to Bishara, Pompeo’s approach set a low bar, with scant mention of Yemen – just half a line – despite the war in Yemen being a key issue in the Middle East. The occupied Palestinian territories weren’t mentioned at all, Bishara noted.
With the UN and human rights organisations repeatedly condemning the tragedy in Yemen, the US should be looking at wrapping up the war, Bishara said.
The Al Jazeera analyst added that Pompeo is “pushing Arab leaders to normalise relations with Israel while it is and continues to be an occupying power.”
In a rebuttal to the speech, a group of mainly former Obama administration foreign policy officials rejected Pompeo’s assertions as petty and weak.
Pompeo’s speech came on the third leg of a nine-nation Middle East tour aimed at reassuring US allies against threats from Iran and ISIL.