U.S. Will Work to Expel 'Every Last Iranian Boot' From Syria, Pompeo Says in Cairo

Secretary of state also says that while Hezbollah is a major presence in Lebanon, the U.S. will not accept this as the status quo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Cairo, January 10, 2019
AFP

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday in a speech to the American University in Cairo, that while Hezbollah is a major presence in Lebanon, the U.S. will not accept this as the status quo. 

Pompeo also said the U.S. will not let Iran turn Syria into the next Lebanon and will act with diplomacy and partners to "expel every Iranian boot" from Syria.

Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration's Mideast policies as he denounced the former president for "misguided" and "wishful" thinking that diminished America's role in the region, harmed its longtime friends and emboldened its main foe: Iran.

Pompeo unloaded on President Donald Trump's predecessor for being naive and timid when confronted with challenges posed by the revolts that convulsed the Middle East, including Egypt, beginning in 2011. Pompeo laid the blame notably on a vision outlined by President Barack Obama in a speech he gave in Cairo in 2009 in which he spoke of "a new beginning" for U.S. relations with countries in the Arab and Muslim world.

"Remember: It was here, here in this very city, another American stood before you," Pompeo told an invited audience of Egyptian officials, foreign diplomats and students. "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."

"In falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East, we were timid about asserting ourselves when the times — and our partners — demanded it," Pompeo said, without mentioning the former president by name.

Pompeo blamed the previous administration's approach to the Mideast for the ills that consume it now, particularly the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and Iran's increasing assertiveness, which he said was a direct result of sanctions relief, since rescinded by the Trump administration, granted to it under the 2015 nuclear deal.

He criticized Obama for ignoring the growth of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon to the detriment of Israel's security and not doing enough to push back on Iran-supported rebels in Yemen.

Since Trump's election, however, Pompeo said this was all changing.

"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," he said.

"Now comes the real 'new beginning.' In just 24 months, actually less than two years, the United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region, because we've learned from our mistakes. We have rediscovered our voice. We have rebuilt our relationships. We have rejected false overtures from enemies."

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 the ISIS in Iraq and Syria 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.

Since withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran last year, the administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran and routinely accuses the nation of being the most destabilizing influence in the region.

It has vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts what U.S. officials describe as its "malign activities" throughout the Mideast and elsewhere, including support for rebels in Yemen, anti-Israel groups and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Pompeo is in Cairo for talks with Egyptian leaders as he continues a nine-nation Middle East tour aimed at reassuring America’s Arab partners that the Trump administration is not walking away from the region and will maintain pressure on Iran.

Amid confusion over the administration’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, Pompeo was meeting Egypt’s president and foreign minister Thursday to discuss security and economic cooperation.

Politico reported earlier in the week that "Pompeo plans to repudiate the Middle East vision of former President Barack Obama, who famously delivered an address to the broader Muslim world while in Egypt in 2009. Pompeo will slam Obama’s engagement with Iran, sources told POLITICO."

Pompeo arrived in Egypt after stops in Jordan and Iraq where he sought to assure leaders that withdrawing from Syria doesn’t mean the U.S. is abandoning the fight against the ISIS or easing pressure on Iran. From Egypt, Pompeo will travel to the Gulf Arab states to press the case.