US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the Trump administration's Iran policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, US May 21, 2018..
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to calm allies in the region concerned with President Donald Trump's withdrawal plans from Syria, stating in Cairo on Thursday that the administration would not abandon its friends in their fight against Iran.
The president has demonstrated his willingness to use force against state and non-state actors in Syria, Pompeo asserted.
“President Trump unleashed the fury of the US military not once, but twice, with allied support,” he said. “And he’s willing to do it again, although we do hope that he does not have to.”
Trump has caused consternation and confusion in Israel and the Arab world ever since declaring last month his intention to rapidly withdraw America’s 2,000 troops from Syria’s eastern provinces, where they provide a bulwark against Iranian forces seen marching toward Israel’s border.
The policy move led Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, and his top counter-Islamic State officer, Brett McGurk, to resign in protest.
But in recent days, Trump appears to have walked back his initial demand for an immediate withdrawal, softening his previous timeline of mere weeks. Now, Pompeo and the president’s national security adviser, John Bolton, are touring the region to condition the withdrawal on the safety of longstanding US allies, including Israel and Syrian Kurdish fighters in conflict with Turkey.
“We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows,” Pompeo said, expressly rebuking the policies of the Obama administration but, backhandedly, those of the president. “When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with enemies, they advance.
“The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering,” Pompeo continued. “The United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region. We’ve learned from our mistakes. We’ve rediscovered our voice. We’ve rebuilt our relationships. We’ve rejected false overtures from our enemies.”
Earlier this week, Bolton delivered a similar message in Israel alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, assuring the country that Trump understands the Iranian threat and will account for it.
Yet it remains unclear if either Pompeo or Bolton speak for the president. “They’re pulling people out of Syria, but they can do what they want there, frankly,” Trump told reporters regarding Iran’s role there just one week ago.
Days earlier, he pointed to the “billions of dollars” Washington provides to Israel so that the Jewish state can defend itself, by itself.
Israel believes that Iran is constructing a “land bridge” connecting resources and military forces from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – taking advantage of broken local governments and American retreats.
But Trump believes his policies on Iran are the toughest in history. He withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear accord with Tehran last year and has reimposed unprecedented sanctions on the country, as part of a campaign of maximum economic pressure meant to compel the government to change its foreign policy.
Pompeo has acknowledged that the campaign has yet to produce results.
“For those who fret about the use of American power, remember this: America has always been, and always will be, a liberating force, not an occupying power,” the secretary said in Cairo, explaining the president’s withdrawal strategy. “We’ve never dreamed of domination in the Middle East. Can you say the same about Iran?”
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