By Lesley Wroughton and Lena Masri
CAIRO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Barack Obama on Thursday of sowing chaos in the Middle East by failing to adequately confront Islamist militants in a blistering critique of the policies of President Donald Trump’s predecessor.
Speaking in Cairo, the site of a major speech Obama gave in 2009 in the first year of his presidency, Republican Trump’s chief diplomat took on Obama by arguing that the Democratic former president had in effect misread and abandoned the Middle East.
The comments raised eyebrows in the United States and abroad not the least because Trump himself is being criticized for his ambiguous plan announced last month to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. While that decision’s timing is unclear, it is widely seen as abandoning the region and favoring U.S. rivals Russia and Iran.
“When America retreats, chaos follows,” Pompeo said in a speech at the American University in Cairo in which he did not mention Obama by name but referred to him as “another American” who gave a speech in the capital of the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Pompeo is touring the region to explain U.S. strategy after Trump’s surprise announcement of an abrupt withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, which rattled allies and shocked top U.S. officials, prompting U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign.
Describing the United States as a “force for good” in the Middle East, Pompeo sought to reassure allies that it remained committed to the “complete dismantling” of the threat posed by the Islamic State militant group despite Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Lena Masri; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Will Dunham)