Mike Pompeo's Cairo speech drives home Iran as 'common enemy' message

Analysis: No mention of human rights or democracy but stressed security and stability

epa07273389 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during his visit at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, 10 January 2019. Pompeo spoke about working with the US allies in the middle east to end terrorism.  EPA/STR
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday followed in the footsteps of his predecessors when he delivered a speech from Cairo outlining Washington’s priorities.

Speaking at the American University in the Egyptian capital, Mr Pompeo repudiated the rhetoric and actions of the Obama administration while driving home an anti-Iran message and avoiding any mention of human rights or democratisation in the Middle East.

Unlike his Republican predecessor Condoleezza Rice’s admission that American policy had “pursued stability at the expense of ­democracy” and achieved neither, Mr Pompeo’s message was more self-confident. “The Trump administration is strengthening America’s alliances and rallying Middle East nations to work together for our shared security and prosperity,” he said.

While American politicians have typically avoided partisan politics while on foreign travel, Mr Pompeo sharply criticised the former president’s 2009 Cairo speech.


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“Remember, it was here, here in this very city, another American stood before you,” Mr Pompeo said, referring to Mr Obama. “He told you that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from 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 ‘a new beginning’. The results of these misjudgments have been dire.”

He said that 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’”.


The most frequent words Pompeo used in Cairo


The secretary of state defined this “new beginning” by highlighting a set of policies to drive President Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda in the Middle East.

Mentioning Iran 30 times in his speech, Mr Pompeo called the country a “common enemy” of regional countries and the US.

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

Mr Pompeo commended regional efforts to counter Tehran, reassuring the audience that the US was working to reverse the advance of an Iran that has “spread its cancerous influence to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria, and further into Lebanon”.

Mr Pompeo also warned against a US retreat in the Middle East, saying: “When America retreats, chaos follows.”

This statement was seen by some as a contradiction of Mr Trump’s recent announcement of a swift withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

“The irony [in Pompeo’s speech] is hard to ignore, given the impending US withdrawal from Syria at a time perceived widely to be supremely premature,” Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told The National. “In past years, much of the region accused Mr Obama of seeking to withdraw from the Middle East, but frankly, that accusation is now being levelled far more forcefully at the Trump administration.”

Mr Pompeo repeated Washington’s aims to establish a Middle East Strategic Alliance, encourage Arab openness to Israel and eradicate “Islamic radical terrorism”.

But on all three points the administration is facing challenges as the Mesa summit continues to be postponed, the US peace plan for Israel and Palestine is delayed and the fight against ISIS takes a hit from the uncertainties surrounding Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria.