Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will no longer apologize for protecting its interests in the Middle East, in a wide-ranging speech that both sharply criticized the Obama administration and painted America as a force for good in the region.
"The age of self-inflicted American shame is over," he said in his remarks at the American University in Cairo. "In just 24 months, the United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region, because we've learned from our mistakes."
Those mistakes, Pompeo said, were the result of President Obama's failure to counter Islamic extremism and Iran's growing influence. Although he never referred to him by name, calling him instead "another American," Pompeo ticked off a lengthy list of what he said were the preceding administration's bad policies -- including not striking Syrian leader Bashar Assad when he attacked civilians with sarin gas.
"In falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East," he said, "We were timid about asserting ourselves when the times – and our partners – demanded it."
The speech, part of Pompeo's marathon trip through the Middle East this week, was yet another effort to reassure nervous allies that the U.S. is not abandoning its security commitments to the region, after President Trump's abrupt announcement that the U.S. would withdraw its forces fighting ISIS from Syria.
"Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over," Pompeo said, adding that it was time to bring troops home. "But this isn't a change of mission. We remain committed to the complete dismantling of the ISIS threat and the ongoing fight against radical Islamism in all its forms."
Over the weekend, National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters that American forces would stay on the ground until ISIS was defeated and the U.S. could guarantee protections for its battlefield allies, the Kurds. Pompeo mentioned no such conditions in his remarks.
"The U.S. will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot, and work through the UN-led process to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people," he said, adding that America's partners needed to "do more in this effort going forward."
The secretary did not say if those partners would be going forward with —or without —American forces at their side.