Analysis: Pompeo buries Obama’s Middle East vision

Trump’s secretary of state tells the Muslim world that Obama’s policy produced dire consequences. 

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

While President Donald Trump has spent much time and energy acting to undo what he considers to have been the damage done by his predecessor Barack Obama in both domestic and diplomatic affairs, he has just taken that campaign one step further.

Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Middle East with the express objective of telling leaders in that part of the world that the Obama legacy was not only wrong, but is also being undone.

Trump acted most bluntly on the international stage against Obama in May with his announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement reached in 2015 between Tehran and six world powers including the Obama administration. Not only did the previous president play a part in reaching this agreement, he considered it a bedrock of his approach to the Muslim world.

During the most recent U.S. presidential election campaign, Trump repeatedly referred to the nuclear agreement as “the worst deal ever,” and he did not soften his approach after entering the White House in January 2017.

In sending Pompeo to the Middle East, Trump was taking the Obama legacy back to square one.

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Square one was in Cairo. That’s where a newly-elected President Obama spoke in 2009 to a university audience, but ultimately to the Muslim world, and in particular, the countries with which Washington did not have close ties. It was eight years after the 9-11 terror attacks, and the new president believed that the time was right to relay the message that Americans do not think that all Muslims are terrorists.

President Trump is not saying that all Muslims are terrorists, to the contrary. The president is exploiting the Iranian desire for greater hegemony and the fears that it instills in other Muslim countries to build up an alliance against Iran, a Muslim alliance that includes countries which have been as outspoken, if not even more opposed, to the Iran nuclear deal than Israel was.

Therefore, not coincidentally, Secretary Pompeo delivered a major address in his just-completed Middle East tour in Cairo, the same major Arab capital where Obama had spoken, though not at Cairo University, but at the American University auditorium.

The different venue might have been coincidental, but even if it was, it suited the Pompeo message. The secretary of state told the audience that Obama’s message had been that “radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from an ideology” and that “9/11 led [the U.S.] to abandon its ideals.”

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In the 2019 rebuttal to 2009, Pompeo argued that Obama was guilty of seeing the United States “as a force for what ails the Middle East,” and that the previous president’s approach produced dire consequences. The current secretary of state was trying to say that the U.S. now is a leader and not a follower.

The top U.S. diplomat was able to make such pronouncements in a Muslim country because of those fears of Iran in countries like Egypt, just as President Trump was able to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem with barely a pin drop of condemnation from the Arab world because he had announced a withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal a week earlier.

President Obama tried to embrace the Islamic world. President Trump has distinguished between the good guys and the bad guys, which he can do because these countries do the same thing among themselves.

President Trump had conducted his own summit early in his presidency in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with the participation of 55 Arab and Muslim countries who not only believe in the division of good and bad in their world but also feel and fear the consequences of more extremist regimes in the region.

Though Saudi Arabia is a pivotal ally towards implementing the Trump approach to the region, it is also a problematic ally. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has put a spotlight on the awkwardness of the relationship. However, the relationship with Saudi Arabia, just like the break-off from the Iran deal, is seen as a good thing for Israel, as Riyadh and Jerusalem have also been working together, though unofficially, as a result of the threat which both feel from Iran.

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At a time of such polarization in U.S. politics, many of the Trump moves in the Middle East, as in other spheres of his presidential policy, are applauded by his base and sharply criticized by his opponents. However, the message of this month’s Pompeo mission could actually be summed up in an expression used by Nikki Haley, the just-departed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who had declared that there was a “new sheriff in town” at the world body.

Pompeo has put the Middle East on notice that in the Muslim world, as well, there is a new sheriff in town.