In his speech at the American University in Cairo two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that he wanted to tell us the "truth" and said that, "America is a force for good in the Middle East, period." He then added: "When America retreats, chaos follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. When we partner with enemies, they advance." Pompeo did not stop there, claiming that American has "always been a liberating force, not an occupying power."
In mentioning former US President Barack Obama, who gave a speech to the Muslim world at the same university in June 2009, entitled "A New Beginning", the Secretary of State accused him of misreading and misunderstanding history because he talked about American mistakes and said that "Islamist terrorism" does not stem from ideology. According to Pompeo, that led to the Arab revolutions which caused chaos and allowed the emergence of extremist trends such as Daesh.
"The good news is this," the US official concluded. "The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning."
Apart from Pompeo breaking a well-established US tradition not to criticise a former president outside the United States, his speech was an attempt to rewrite and falsify history. Regardless of whether the policies of either Obama administrations were in alignment with the values he put forward in his speech in Cairo, the truth is that a lot of what he said at the time was true. America's mistake was to turn a blind eye for many decades to the aspirations of the Arab people for freedom, dignity and democracy, and instead to support repressive dictatorships. Another mistake was America's abandonment of many of its values after the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
It is ironic that Pompeo, who spoke to us about America's reinvigoration as a force of good in the Middle East did not have much actual good to mention in his speech. He instead tried to beautify many of Washington's ugly policies in the region and portray them as "good deeds".
For example, the Secretary of State did not address the subject of freedom and democracy, and the need for economic prosperity for the people of the region. He did not mention the need for political breakthroughs in their countries, so as not to escalate tension. What he promised us is more wars, conflict, murder and destruction in the name of the "war on terror". He did not hesitate to rub salt into the bleeding wounds of the Arab people when he reminded us that the first foreign visit made by President Donald Trump after taking office in 2017 was to attend the Riyadh Summit, which was focused on combating extremism and fighting terrorism. Pompeo also stated that the US continues to fight Daesh, is working on containing Iran, and is a partner in the Yemen war, which the Saudi-UAE axis has turned into a war to destroy Yemen and millions of its people without defeating the Houthis.
This is what prompted both parties in the US Congress, Republican and Democrat alike, to vote in favour of stopping American support for this disastrous war that has spread famine, disease and death among ordinary Yemenis. However, Pompeo did not stop there. He also had to insult us by praising the oppressive regimes; so much so, that he believes his country was wrong to support the popular revolutions against them.
"We've adhered to our word," he added, with even more salt for the wounds. "President Trump campaigned on the promise to recognise Jerusalem – the seat of Israel's government – as the nation's capital. In May, we moved our embassy there."
He has complete disregard for the regimes that gave up their dignity and the sovereignty of their nations to the United States in exchange for preserving their masters' chairs. Hence, Pompeo also had to praise his Egyptian host: "I also applaud President [Abdel Fattah Al-] Sisi's efforts to promote religious freedom, which stands as an example for all leaders and all peoples of the Middle East." Since Pompeo does not distinguish between the Muslim Brotherhood and Daesh, or any other violent organisation because he believes that they have all adopted the same "terrorism ideology", the 2013 coup led by Al-Sisi was portrayed as a means to rescue Egypt. He did not address the catastrophic human rights situation in the country, as reported by independent international organisations. Nor did he address the political prisoners held by Sisi's security forces; there were 60,000 at the latest count. All he focused on was expressing his joy at Al-Sisi's acquittal of American citizens who worked in NGOs in Egypt.
All of this is the "truth" that Pompeo insisted on telling us, except that it wasn't remotely the truth. It was an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of the Middle East. If we were to compare Obama's speech to Pompeo's at the same university, we would find that the former was closer to the truth, but did not necessarily give the complete truth. This includes his admission at the time that the Iraq invasion of 2003 was a war of choice, unlike Afghanistan, which was a war of necessity, as Al-Qaeda, which plotted and executed the 2001 attacks was holed up there. In the wake of the US invasion of Iraq, the truth was revealed that the George W Bush administration had fabricated claims about Saddam Hussein's connections to Al-Qaeda. This strengthened Al-Qaeda's power post-invasion and led to the emergence of Daesh amidst the chaos caused by Bush and those around him.
If Pompeo's claim that "America has always been a liberating force, not an occupying power" is not a brazen attempt to rewrite and falsify history, then what is it? America's policies in the Middle East were and still are mostly bad and evil; Pompeo's speech in Cairo provides ample evidence of this. Above all else, that is the real "self-inflicted shame" that Pompeo claims that the US has freed itself from in the Middle East.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 25 January 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.