Pompeo’s Middle East Speech – A Blustering Promise Of Less U.S. Involvement

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Above Photo: Gabriel/Flickr

The speech described below made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is truly bizarre. It does not accurately describe the US role in the Middle East, especially since 9/11 which has been a descrutive one that has included a lengthy occupation of Iraq and efforts to put in place long-term military bases throughout the region. The good news in the speech is it seems to overrule the statements made by National Security Advisor John Bolton about staying in Syria to fight ISIS and protect the Kurds. Bolton told Israel the US would be staying in Syria for a lenthy time. Pompeo said the opposite.

On the ground, the Associated Press is reporting that the US withdrawal from Syria has begun. And, Reuters reports that Turkey has asked the United States to turn over to Turkey or destroy 22 military bases in Syria saying Turkey would not accept the handover of what it said were 22 U.S. military bases to the Kurdish YPG. Turkey wants US bases emptied and handed over to “local elements.” According to the report there has been no slowdown in the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and Turkey is focused on what happens to U.S. bases in Syria and the weapons Washington has given the YPG. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to meet with Bolton when he came to Turkey.  Middle East Eye reports there was a meeting held between John Bolton and US generals with Turkish officials. Turkey pushed the US to continue its exit from Syria. Turkish officials expect that the withdrawal will take place in 120 days, if the US delayed its withdrawal with “ridiculous excuses” Turkey will not delay an offensive agaisnt the Kurds. Russian forces are beginning to move in, Russian military police have already started to patrol the area near Manbij town.  KZ

Today Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, visited Egypt. He held a somewhat delusional speech at the American University in Cairo. It is headlined:

A Force for Good: America Reinvigorated in the Middle East:

There is little in the speech that supports the headline. It starts with blustering:

[B]ecause I’m a military man by training, I’ll be very blunt and direct today: America is a force for good in the Middle East.We need to acknowledge that truth, because if we don’t, we make bad choices – now and in the future.

Pompeo blames Obama for the trouble the “force of good” caused:

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.

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 good news. The good news is this: 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.

It follows a list of false claims and fake history:

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. We’ve never dreamed of domination in the Middle East.

Pompeo ignores the still valid Carter doctrine which demands exclusive U.S. domination of the Middle East: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

When the mission is over, when the job is complete, America leaves. Today in Iraq, at the government’s invitation, we have approximately 5,000 troops where there were once 166,000. We once had tens of thousands of U.S. military stationed – personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia. Now that number is a tiny fraction.

In 2011 the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki rejected to sign a Status of Force agreement that would have given U.S. troops in Iraq special rights. In consequence the U.S. had to retreat from Iraq. A few troops came back to fight the Islamic State which Obama let grow to eject Maliki. Those troops will too have to leave. After the 1991 war against Iraq, Saudi Arabia came under pressure from radical Islamists to kick the many U.S. troops out of the country. Several thousand sill stayed. After the Kohbar tower bombing in 1996 the rest had to go too. In both cases the retreat was not voluntarily.

The speech goes on with a long passage of bashing Iran and lauding Israel. Pompeo says that the Trump administration wishes to establish the ‘Middle East Strategic Alliance’, an Arab NATO that allies with Israel. A pipe dream born out of sheer ignorance that is destined to fail.

We’re also seeing remarkable change. New bonds are taking root that were unimaginable until very recently. Who could’ve believed a few years ago that an Israeli prime minister would visit Muscat?

Israel’s then Prime Minister Rabin visited Oman in 1994. Two years later then Prime Minister Shimon Peres followed. So yeah, a lot of people could have believed that. None of them though believes that a ‘Middle East Strategic Alliance’ will ever be more than a talking point.

The speech then comes to the core of Trump’s thinking and policy:

Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over. […] But as President Trump has said, we’re looking to our partners to do more, and in this effort we will do so going forward together.For our part, airstrikes in the region will continue as targets arise.

And as the fighting continues, we will continue to assist our partners in efforts to guard borders, prosecute terrorists, screen travelers, assist refugees, and more. But “assist” is the key phrase.

Those who want to fight Iran down to the last U.S. soldier, i.e. Israel and Saudi Arabia, will not like to hear that. Under Trump the U.S. will not do the bleeding in their fight.

On Syria:

Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over. […] 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. 

In Syria, the United States will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot, and work through the UN-led process to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people. There will be no U.S. reconstruction assistance for areas of Syria held by Assad until Iran and its proxy forces withdraw and until we see irreversible progress towards a political resolution.

That is a revocation of John Bolton’s plan to stay in Syria to defend the Kurds from a Turkish invasion or for whatever other reason. Indeed the Syrian Kurds are not mentioned at all in Pompeo’s speech. They will surely take note of that.

There is also no mention of human rights, Khashoggi, freedom, or Palestinian statehood.

The speech ends as it started, with praising “America’s innate goodness”.

Daniel Larison calls the speech Pompeo’s Exercise in Arrogant Self-Congratulation. That fits well.

For the people and the rulers in the Middle East the speech offers nothing. They are told that they are on their own. The U.S. will not longer play the “shinning city upon a hill” and it will no longer do the fighting for other interests. It wants purely transactional relations but with as little physical involvement as possible.

There is a lot of support for Israel in the speech and an equal amount of bashing Iran. But there is no promise that the U.S. is willing to do more than verbal grandstanding and to keep up the ineffective ‘squeezing’ of Iran.

Overall Pompeo’s speech was directed more at a U.S. audience that to a Middle Eastern public. Iran hawks, evangelicals and President Trump will love it. Liberal interventionists and neo-conservatives will criticize it.

While the speech points into a direction that more isolationist forces in the U.S. will support, it does not guarantee that the real policies will follow it. Even if Trump wants to go into a direction of less U.S. involvement, there are other forces in his administration which try to push him into new conflicts.

Under these circumstances it is nothing more that one data point that shows what might be.