U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry Thursday. Photo by MFA spokesperson Egypt/Twitter
Jan. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday the United States is a "force for good in the Middle East," while criticizing former President Barack Obama for "self-inflicted American shame."
In a speech at American University in Cairo, Pompeo talked about current Middle East policy and how it differs from the Obama-era strategy.
"America is a force for good in the Middle East. Period," he said. "The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering."
Obama visited Egypt 10 years ago and promised the United States would close the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba and stop torturing suspected terrorists. Pompeo said that was an era of timidity, when wishful thinking allowed violence to flourish in the region. He said the United States should have asserted itself when the circumstances called for it.
"Remember: It was here, here in this city, another American stood before you," Pompeo said, referring to Obama. "He told you that radical Islamist terrorism doesn't stem from an ideology. He told you that 9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals -- particularly in the Middle East. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world needed 'a new beginning.' The results of these misjudgments have been dire."
He also said the decisions "adversely affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Egypt and across the region."
Pompeo is visiting the Middle East this week to discuss U.S. policy in the region, including the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria ordered by President Donald Trump. The visit also included a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
The United States has sold Egypt $40 billion in arms and military equipment and $30 billion in economic assistance since 1980.
The longest trip of Pompeo's tenure as secretary of state already included stops in Iraq and Jordan. From Egypt, he will go to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.
Pompeo's trip to Iraq Wednesday included a meeting with Kurdish officials in the regional capital of Erbil. He said Washington remains committed to protecting Kurdish allies in Syria from Turkish aggression.
Turkish officials said Thursday they would not wait for U.S. troops to leave before launching attacks against YPG terror groups east of the Euphrates River.
"If the [withdrawal] is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV channel. "We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone."
The terrorists Turkey wants to target would be the Kurds who fought alongside the United States in Syria. On Tuesday, Erdogan said the ultimatum given by the Trump administration to guarantee the safety of Kurds was "unacceptable" and a "grave mistake."
Erdogan canceled a meeting with National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Still, Pompeo said Thursday that Erdogan assured him the Syrians would be protected and the U.S. withdrawal plan was intact.
"It's important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected and Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that," Pompeo said. "He talked about terrorists being an existential threat, we acknowledged that there is a threat to Turkey from terrorists and we will be very supportive."
Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria prompted Defense Secretary James Mattis to abruptly resign on New Year's Eve.