A speech delivered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday was immediately chided by critics as bellicose and ahistorical "hogwash" that did more to reveal the incoherence and dangers of the Trump administration's foreign policy than anything else.
"What the world needs to hear from U.S. leaders, is a speech that apologizes for the tragedies we have wrought throughout the region with our illegal invasions and occupations, a speech that commit the U.S. to reparations, and a speech where we pledge to stop coddling repressive regimes in the region."—Medea Benjamin, CodePink
In his remarks, Pompeo said while Trump remains committed to withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria, the administration would not rest until "every last Iranian boot" was also removed from the country. The U.S. government, he added, will "not ease our campaign to stop Iran's malevolent influence and actions against this region and the world."
With a straight face, and failing to acknowledge the long and well-documented history of U.S. invasions and anti-democratic interference in the region, Pompeo claimed the U.S. under Trump "has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in" the Middle East.
American leaders have "learned from our mistakes," he added, but isolated his criticism to the actions of the Obama administration who he accused of "retreat[ing]" from the region.
We would also add embarrassing. 'Pompeo's Cairo speech panned as ‘tone-deaf,’ ‘hyper-partisan,’ ‘offensive’ https://t.co/doB0pPCOr0
— Win Without War (@WinWithoutWar) January 10, 2019
Anti-war advocate and CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, an analysis emailed to Common Dreams, characterized the speech as preposterous — "an arrogant tirade extolling the U.S. as a liberator not an occupier, a defender not an aggressor—a depiction that runs totally counter to the sordid U.S. history of invasions and occupations all over the world."
While Pompeo declared the U.S. has never been an "empire-builder," Benjamin said that false claim "would come as a surprise to the people living in countries where the U.S. has over 800 military bases, especially places like Cuba, Okinawa and South Korea where people have been fighting for decades to recover their lands."
According to Vox's Jen Kirby, Pompeos's speech "essentially boiled down to: Iran is bad, the Obama administration was bad, and Trump's America is awesome."
While Pompeo made Iran the main target of his address—and blasted the Obama administration for orchestrating an international deal between Tehran and leading nations over the country's nuclear program to end U.S. sanctions—Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), suggested the speech proves that Trump has no "coherent strategic logic" when it comes to Iran or the broader the Middle East.
"If Secretary Pompeo wants regional stability, human rights, and an end to U.S. military adventures and endless wars," said Abdi, "he would press his boss to return to the Iran deal, pursue and facilitate good-faith diplomacy among all stakeholders, and honor our international agreements."
In his response, Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired United States Army Colonel and Foreign Policy for America advisory board member, stated: "If Pompeo, in all his lamentations about the evils of Iran had simply substituted in place of Iran, Saudi Arabia, he would have gained stature and billing for finally speaking the truth. But, alas, the lies continue."
And as Benjamin added in her analysis:
Pompeo spent a good part of his speech excoriating Iran, never mentioning the little fact that the U.S. overthrew Iran's democratically elected government in 1953. While he vilified Iran, he made no mention of Saudi Arabia's horrendous human rights abuses or its role in the devastation of Yemen. He blamed Iran for the spread of extremism in the Middle East, instead of blaming the Saudis for spreading their intolerant Wahhabist perversion of Islam that forms the ideological basis of terrorist groups from Al Qaeda to ISIS to Boko Haram.
Pompeo vilified Obama's negotiations with Iran as "willful blindness," failing to mention that these negotiations were carried out not just by the U.S. and Iran, but with Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. He called the nuclear deal a failure, but the only failure has been the US unilateral withdrawal. Iran has abided by the deal, as have the other signatories.
In his response to Pompeo's speech, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced the U.S. for its legacy of sowing instability and destruction throughout the Middle East and beyond.
"Whenever/wherever US interferes, chaos, repression & resentment follow," Zarif tweeted. "The day Iran mimics US clients & [Pompeo's] "human rights models"—be it the Shah or current butchers—to become a "normal" country is the day hell freezes over. Best for the US to just get over loss of Iran."
While Abdi said there are real reasons to criticize the Iranian government, U.S. policy continues to thwart what might otherwise be constructive pathways to address those shortcomings. "Unfortunately," he said, "legitimate criticism of the Iranian government's abuses and support for the Iranian people are undermined by this administration's hypocrisy - from failing to uphold its own international commitments under the nuclear deal, to shielding the Saudi government from accountability for its killing of Jamal Khashoggi, to banning and sanctioning ordinary Iranians."
Instead, he said, "A prudent alternative U.S. policy to the region must be predicated on using diplomacy as the preferred method of advancing U.S. interests, acting consistently on human rights, and ceasing our blank-check support for regional autocrats. A diplomacy-driven U.S. Middle East policy would not turn its back on regional people suffering under the yoke of strongmen or monarchs and would build on the successful diplomatic playbook of the Iran nuclear deal."
In the end, said Benjamin, Pompeo's speech, "just like U.S. policy in the region," could be described with one word: shameful.
"What the world needs to hear from U.S. leaders," she concluded, "is a speech that apologizes for the tragedies we have wrought throughout the region with our illegal invasions and occupations, a speech that commit the U.S. to reparations, and a speech where we pledge to stop coddling repressive regimes in the region, from Israel to Saudi Arabia to the United Arabs Emirates to Bahrain. That is the kind of speech the people of the Middle East deserve, not more imperial hogwash."