Comparing Obama in 2009 with Pompeo in 2019
The January 10, 2019 Cairo speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — which was cleared by the White House — was a course-setting presentation of the US role in the Middle East.
Pompeo’s ideological and operational speech was aimed at bolstering the US’s posture of deterrence and reassuring pro-US Arab regimes. It was diametrically opposed to President Obama’s vision of the Middle East, which was presented in Cairo on June 4, 2009.
In 2009, President Obama introduced his own vision of rejuvenated US relations with Islam and the Arab world, highlighting the following guidelines:
“Islam has always been a part of America’s story. … Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.”
“America and Islam are not exclusive. … they overlap and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. … The interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart. … Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
“More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a cold war in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.”
Obama also cast the US as a culprit in the Middle East.
In 2019, Secretary of State Pompeo introduced his own assessments of Middle East reality, and bluntly recommended policy guidelines:
“When America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. When we partner with enemies, they advance.”
“America has confronted the ugly reality of radical Islamism. … America will not retreat until the terror fight is over. … We remain committed to the complete dismantling of ISIS … defeating Islamist extremism wherever we find it. … We grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism, a debauched strain of the faith that seeks to upend every other form of worship or governance.”
“We must confront the Ayatollahs, not coddle them. … We withdrew from the failed  nuclear deal … re-imposing sanctions that should have never been lifted. … The nations of the Middle East will never enjoy security … if Iran’s revolutionary regime persists on its current course.”
“[The Middle East] witnessed convulsions from Tunis to Tehran as old systems crumbled and new ones struggled to emerge. … In falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East, we were timid in asserting ourselves when the times — and our partners — demanded it.”
“Our reluctance to wield our influence kept us silent as the people of Iran rose up [in 2009] against the mullahs in Tehran in the Green Revolution. … Emboldened, the regime spread its cancerous influence to Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.”
“American’s penchant for wishful thinking led us to look the other way as Hezbollah, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime, accumulated a massive arsenal of approximately 130,000 rockets and missiles … aimed squarely at our ally, Israel. … The US fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against the Iranian regimes’ aggressive adventurism.”
Reviewing both Cairo speeches, one may pose the following questions:
Is the US war on Islamic terrorism advanced/undermined by the assumption that Middle East and Western regimes and peoples share similar goals and values?
Is the US better off combating Islamic terrorists in Middle East trenches or trenches in the US?
While the US military deterrence in the Middle East would be enhanced by a coalition of pro-US Arab regimes, could it be replaced by such a coalition of regimes that are inherently tenuous as are their policies and alliances?
Is the US better off reacting to — or preempting — Islamic terrorism?
Is long-term US national security in general, and counter-terrorism in particular, well-served by Israel’s operational, intelligence, and technological experience and capabilities, in addition to Israel’s reliability as an ally of the US?
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative.