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Top US diplomat assails Obama in Mideast policy speech

Top US diplomat assails Obama in Mideast policy speech

January 11th, 2019 in National News

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to students at the American University Cairo, in the eastern suburb of New Cairo, Egypt, east of the capital, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

CAIRO (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration’s Mideast policies Thursday, accusing the former president of “misguided” thinking that diminished America’s role in the region while harming its longtime friends and emboldening Iran.

In a speech to the American University in Cairo, Pompeo unloaded on President Donald Trump’s predecessor, saying he was naive and timid when confronted with challenges posed by the revolts that convulsed the Middle East, including Egypt, beginning in 2011.

Pompeo denounced the 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.”

Pompeo said the U.S. was “timid” about “asserting ourselves when the times — and our partners — demanded it.”

The secretary did not mention Obama by name but the remarks still struck listeners in the U.S. as unusually partisan.

“It’s a speech shocking for its use of domestic politics, for kind of attacking a prior president in an international setting and for going to a long-time ally and questioning some of the foundations of the relationship with the ally,” said Heather Hurlburt, an analyst with the New America, a nonpartisan think tank. “Those are all things that secretaries of state don’t normally do but seem to becoming standard practice with Pompeo.”

Pompeo’s speech came on the third leg of a nine-nation Mideast tour aimed at reassuring America’s Arab partners that the Trump administration is not walking away from the region amid confusion and concern over plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

Former Obama administration officials rejected Pompeo’s assertions as petty, political and weak. They said the speech pandered to authoritarian leaders and ignored rights violations that Obama had called out.

“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,” National Security Action group, a group of former officials, said in a statement.