At the end of the World War One, when peace talks started in Paris after the U.S. president declared his open door policies and started to travel around the world to establish the League of Nations, a more concrete initiative was being put into practice in Cairo. A pastor of U.S. origin, who was born into a family that has been active in Egypt for a long time, Charles Watson, returned to Cairo with the education he received in America, the money given to him and the support of the church, established the American University to educate the future leaders of the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo cultivated the fruits of an entire century in the speech he made in the American University in Cairo: “Just look at our history together, the history which I have recounted today. Look at our fights against common enemies. Look at our coalition building. And finally, just look around you at this university, which has existed now for a century. It’s not a coincidence that many other American universities like this one thrive all across the Middle East, from Beirut to Sulaymaniyah.”
Pompeo says “again”
The purpose of this column, despite our reservations about its foundational policies, is not to tell you about the history of Cairo American University, which has been renowned for its educational activities in the Middle East for almost a century. This university, alongside with its other missions, hosted Republican Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005, Democrat President Barrack Obama in 2009 and finally, the current U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo this year. Doesn’t the fact that this university serves as a platform that conveys messages to the Muslim world or a place where pledges of allegiance are received show what kind of function it serves for the U.S.?
In my latest column, I pointed out the trips Pompeo made. Rather than John Bolton’s short stint in Ankara as Trump’s representative, I wrote that we should be focusing on Pompeo’s visits to Jordan, Egypt and other Gulf countries. For me, Bolton’s visit, besides being a search for new markets, aimed to deflect attention from Pompeo’s initiatives. Trump’s remarks, the signs he conveys on social media that he is going to withdraw from the region, are confusing analysts closely observing the region. This confusion probably manifests itself in decision-making circles. That is why I always stress that we need to differentiate between “Trump’s political attitudes and the U.S.’s traditional policies.”
There are the U.S.’s traditional allies in the Middle East with whom they have been working for over a hundred years, and there is also Trump’s new allies. We need to differentiate between these two groups as well. We should not forget that Trump’s allies are temporary, just like Trump himself, but U.S. allies -at least for now- are permanent. This situation manifested itself clearly in Pompeo’s 3,600-word speech, who seems to be Trump’s policy implementer, made at the Cairo American University. Even while explaining Trump’s two-year-old policies, Pompeo used words such as “again” or “renovation,” and stressed the continuity of U.S. policies in the region.
It wasn’t in vain that Pompeo started this speech by recalling the visits he made in the region while he was assigned to different positions including the Director of the CIA. Maybe what’s new was that the fact he mentioned the “Evangelical Rise of the U.S.” It was telling that Pompeo spared his fourth sentence for this issue: “This trip is especially meaningful for me as an evangelical Christian, coming so soon after the Coptic Church’s Christmas celebrations. This is an important time. We’re all children of Abraham: Christians, Muslims, and Jews. In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth.”
Was his speech at a university or a church
Pompeo showed also his realist tendencies in the speech at the university which he started as if he were at church giving a sermon by saying, “I’m a military man by training, I’ll be very blunt and direct today.” Hence, when we analyze this speech we can tell that he was focusing on three issues:
First is that U.S. interests in the region cannot be looked at by disregarding from the past. That is why Pompeo often points out America’s historical presence in the region. He even blames the Obama administration for neglecting this history. He claims that the U.S. has been present in the Middle East for centuries by recalling that relations with Morocco in North Africa were established in 1777 and with Oman in the Gulf in 1833. Pompeo also gives a history lesson by stressing the U.S.’s long history with Egypt and its 70 years of diplomatic relations with Jordan. He is probably going to give this history lesson in different speeches he is going to make in other countries.
The second issue in his speech actually complemented the first one and demonstrates the actual goal. He offers cooperation against Iran by stressing Tehran’s influence in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen and its active presence on the ground. More precisely, he first scares and then orders, just like a commander. By ignoring the millions victimized by the war, he satisfies Gulf countries with bait, promising to continue support for the coalition in Yemen, and he declares that Israel’s military capacity will be increased against Iran. In this respect, while he describes the rapprochement between Israel and Gulf countries in glowing terms and even claims that it is an unbelievable success, he brings up the issue of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While even praising this decision by Trump, he defines it as an implementation of the U.S.’s traditional policies and points out to the continuity issue.
The third issue, which is not so surprising for us, is the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria after the fight and eventual victory against Daesh. I have written my thoughts about this issue before, so there is no need for repetition. However, even Pompeo’s remarks saying, “When America retreats, chaos often follows” is enough to explain his intentions. Pompeo, who showed the U.S.’s determination in his statement that “America will not retreat until the terror fight is over,” not only asserted that the U.S. will not retreat but that also he came to the region with the mission to strengthen U.S. presence.
If mistakes had not been repeated, history wouldn’t repeat itself. That is why we should keep on reading history. For instance, let’s remember once again with what excuses Mosul and Anatolia were invaded despite the Armistice of Mudros.