Mike Pompeo goes to Egypt

Mike Pompeo goes to Egypt

TEN YEARS and four Egyptian regimes have passed since Barack Obama delivered his grandiose address to the Muslim world in Cairo. The former president never lived up to his lofty promises of promoting democracy and human rights, in part because the Arab Spring scrambled the staid politics of the Middle East and north Africa. His administration found itself in a reactive crouch, its policy riddled with contradictions. Though he praised Egyptians for overthrowing Hosni Mubarak, their authoritarian president, in 2011, Mr Obama tied himself in knots to avoid calling the military takeover in 2013 a coup. He helped Libyans topple their old dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, but didn’t forcefully intervene in Syria’s civil war, even after its president, Bashar al-Assad, crossed his “red line” by using chemical weapons.

There was no high-minded rhetoric on January 10th, when the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, made his own speech in Cairo. Instead he delivered a scathing broadside against the previous administration. In Mr Pompeo’s retelling a naive president scorned longtime allies, pursued detente with Iran and plunged the Arab world into chaos. “The results of these misjudgments have been dire,” he said.

President Donald Trump has certainly taken a different course. He withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran that Mr Obama negotiated and reimposed sanctions on its ailing economy. On his first foreign trip, to Saudi Arabia, Mr Trump told a gathering of regional autocrats that he was “not here to lecture”. He has kept that promise. The kingdom largely escaped censure for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a critical journalist who was butchered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. Mr Pompeo offered little criticism of his Egyptian hosts, who have locked up thousands of political prisoners, crushed NGOs and stifled speech.

Beyond his fondness for autocrats, however, Mr Trump’s policy in the region is a muddle, and his top diplomat offered little clarity. “We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows,” Mr Pompeo said, on behalf of a president who announced last month (via tweet) that America was retreating from Syria. Allies were stunned by the decision, then confused by it. Meant to occur within 30 days, the pullout has now been delayed until spring—or perhaps later. John Bolton, the national security adviser, said on January 6th that America would stay until it was sure that its Kurdish allies were protected. That could be some time, since Turkey openly wishes to attack them.

Mr Pompeo said America would work to “expel every Iranian boot” from Syria, just days after his boss told the Iranians they were free to “do what they want” in Syria. For all his ire towards Iran’s clerical regime, Mr Trump also says he would be happy to negotiate with it. Some Arab countries are simply ignored. No one in the Trump administration dwells much on war-torn Libya or the troubled democratic transition in Tunisia. His much-hyped “deal of the century”, a peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians, may never see the light of day.

If Mr Trump has one consistent belief, it is that the countries of the Middle East and north Africa should do more to solve their own problems. He is happy to sell them weapons and ignore their human-rights abuses. He campaigned on getting America out of the region and wants to keep that promise. Aides and allies may hope to push him in a different direction. But in Mr Trump’s administration, as in the autocracies he praises, only one voice really counts.

.