US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart following their meeting at the ministry of foreign affairs in Cairo on January 10, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the United States is a "force for good" in the Middle East while expressing damning criticism of the Obama administration's policies in the region.
In a speech in Cairo, Pompeo lambasted President Donald Trump's predecessor Barack Obama for his "timid" and "wishful" vision, which he said had plunged the Middle East in turmoil, undermined Washington's role in the region and failed to adequately confront extremism.
"Remember, it was here, here in this very city, another American stood before you," Pompeo said, apparently referring to Obama's major 2009 speech which he gave in his first year of presidency.
"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 added, without mentioning Obama by name.
Pompeo blamed the former president's approach for contributing to the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria and failing to counter Iran's growing influence in the region. He also criticised Obama's "hesitation" to counter the growth of Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and Iran-allied rebels in Yemen.
"Our eagerness to address only Muslims and not nations ignored the rich diversity of the Middle East and frayed old bonds. It undermined the concept of the nation states, the building block of international stability," Pompeo told an audience of top Egyptian officials, foreign diplomats and students at the American University in Cairo.
"When America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds and when we partner with our enemies, they advance."
Pompeo said that Obama's successor, Trump, has brought a "real new beginning" and ended "the age of self-inflicted American shame."
"In less than two years, the United States under President Donald Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region."
In a bid alleviate concerns over the use of the US power in region, Pompeo said that "America has always been and always will be a liberating force, not an occupying power. We have never dreamed of domination in the Middle East."
Pompeo sought to reassure allies in the region that Washington remains committed to the "complete dismantling" of the threat posed by the Islamic State terrorist group as well as the ongoing fight against radical Islamism.
He said Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has joined the Trump's administration in denouncing radical Islam.
"I thank President Sisi for his courage," he said.
He reaffirmed that Washington strongly supports Egypt's efforts to destroy extremists in the border Sinai region, the epicenter of a militancy that has killed hundreds over the past few years.
Pompeo arrived in the Egyptian capital late on Wednesday on the third stop of a nine-nation Mideast tour, following Trump's surprise decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria.
Earlier on Thursday, he met with President El-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo to discuss security and economic cooperation.