Two Speeches, a Decade Apart: How Pompeo Departed From Obama

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The speech on Thursday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the American University in Cairo, laying out the Trump administration’s Middle East objectives, was strikingly at odds with a famed speech made by President Barack Obama in the same city nearly a decade ago.

Mr. Pompeo blamed the prior White House administration for “fundamental misunderstandings” that “adversely affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Egypt and across the region.”

Mr. Obama’s own speech in 2009 reads a little like an inversion of the Trump administration’s view. Here are some points of comparison:

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” Mr. Obama said, a theme that became the focus of much of his message to the Middle East. His policy aimed to “acknowledge the past” and work toward shared goals “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

“Human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.”

Mr. Pompeo criticized the prior administration’s “reluctance to wield our influence” and asserted that under the Obama administration, the United States had been “falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East.”

“Now comes the real ‘new beginning.’ 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.”

Mr. Obama adamantly supported a two-state solution, asserting America’s “unbreakable” bond with Israel while condemning Israeli policies that he said had undermined efforts to resolve one of the world’s most protracted conflicts.

“So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”

“Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.”

Mr. Pompeo said little about the peace process and made no mention of a two-state solution, stating that the “Trump administration will also continue to press for a real and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” Messages of support for Israel were woven prominently throughout the address.

“We have adhered to our word. President Trump campaigned on the promise to recognize the city of Jerusalem — the seat of Israel’s government — as the nation’s capital. In May, we moved the U.S. Embassy there. These decisions honor a bipartisan congressional resolution from more than two decades ago.”

Mr. Obama opened the door to talks with Iran in 2009, acknowledging “a tumultuous history” and arguing that cooperation with Tehran was in the region’s interests.

“Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.”

Mr. Pompeo focused much of his speech on denouncing Iran, and criticized Mr. Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Iranian leaders.

“Our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.

“America’s economic sanctions against the regime are the strongest in history, and will keep getting tougher until Iran starts behaving like a normal country.”

Mr. Obama did not use the words “terrorism” or “terrorist,” opting for “violent extremists” to describe radical militant groups who carry out attacks in the name of Islam.

“America is not — and will never be — at war with Islam.”

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