Around the halls: Brookings experts react to Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech in Cairo

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On January 10, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a foreign policy address in Cairo, in which he sought to depict the United States as “a force for good” in the Middle East. Middle East experts at Brookings had a range of quick reactions to the speech, available below.
Natan Sachs (@natansachs), Director of the Center for Middle East Policy: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to Cairo to repeat what Obama did there in 2009. Like Obama, he came to repudiate the previous president’s Middle East approach and declare a “new beginning” to American-Middle East relations. Obama wanted to break from the George W. Bush legacy of Iraq and American interventionism. Pompeo attempted to break with Obama’s “self-inflicted American shame,” that—he said—did not recognize America as a force for good, and break with his embrace of the enemy, Iran. While playing politics on foreign soil, Pompeo echoed well the views of elite audiences among regional U.S. partners. They speak worse of Obama and, in theory, would like Pompeo’s approach.

Yet Pompeo has a slight disadvantage in predecessor-rebuking. Obama spoke reliably for the president—himself. Pompeo’s speech sounded like a forceful return to the Bush era, yet he speaks for a president who is nothing like Bush, and possibly nothing like Pompeo in foreign policy. Trump repeatedly questions the utility or benefit of American involvement in the world and, most recently, ordered a hasty withdrawal of troops from Syria, as Pompeo and John Bolton are now at pains to explain away, including in this speech.
While Pompeo’s rebuke of Obama was not without some merit, he might more truthfully ask the same questions of Trump. Indeed, the same regional audiences frequently ask in private whether Pompeo, Bolton, or their predecessors can reliably speak about U.S. policy. For that matter, they’re often not …

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