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Pompeo’s Shameless Pro-Saudi Speech

Mike Pompeo, CIA director (Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

Nahal Toosi reports on Pompeo’s upcoming Cairo speech:

Pompeo will insist that Iran, a country Obama tried to engage, is the real terrorist culprit. The speech’s drafts also have Pompeo suggesting that Iran could learn from the Saudis about human rights and the rule of law [bold mine-DL], two people briefed said.

Pompeo has spent the last few months as if he is auditioning to be the next Saudi foreign minister with his effusive defenses of the kingdom and expressions of hostility to Iran, so it isn’t surprising that he will be making the same noises in this speech. Holding up the Saudis as an example to follow on human rights and the rule of law would be a bad joke at the best of times. In light of their numerous terrible crimes in Yemen and against their own people, it just confirms how absurdly biased in favor of the Saudis this administration is.

Lambasting Iran as the source of terrorism in the region is commonplace, but it hasn’t been a true description of the causes of terrorism in the Middle East for decades. The Iranian government hasn’t been the one sponsoring and arming jihadist groups in Syria and elsewhere for the last several years. That distinction belongs to various Gulf states and private donors. The Saudis and Emiratis are the ones arming and funding terrorists in Yemen. Fixating on Iran as “the real terrorist culprit” may satisfy Pompeo’s hawkish allies, but it bears little relationship to reality in 2019.

The speech will also apparently include some predictable, tired shots at Obama:

Two people outside the administration who have been briefed on the speech, while noting that Pompeo could still change what he says up until the last minute, said the drafts so far had a distinctly anti-Obama flavor.

Original drafts of the speech were heavily focused on trashing elements of Obama’s 2009 speech, in which the former president sought a “new beginning” with Muslim-majority countries amid the fallout of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Pompeo is slated to tell his audience that Obama — although he may not name the former president — misled the people of the Middle East about the true source of terrorism, including what contributed to the rise of the Islamic State, according to the people briefed.

Rehashing complaints about a speech given by a former president a decade ago is the sort of thing that an unimaginative columnist might do, but it’s an odd tactic for a Secretary of State to use in a major foreign address. It reinforces the impression that the Trump administration’s regional policies are in many respects little more than a knee-jerk rejection of whatever the previous administration did.

Pompeo’s tone-deafness doesn’t stop there:

Pompeo is also due to applaud Saudi Arabia for bringing to justice the killers of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, two people briefed said.

Secretary Pompeo’s role in covering for the Saudi government and the crown prince over the last three months on this has been disgraceful, and it seems that he intends to ingratiate himself with Riyadh further by lauding their desperate attempt to deflect blame from Mohammed bin Salman for the murder. Whatever the Saudi government has done in response to Khashoggi’s murder has nothing at all to do with justice and everything to do with pinning the crime on everyone except the real guilty party. Pompeo is reminding us that there is basically nothing he won’t stoop to for the sake of the administration’s Iran obsession.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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