When America retreats, chaos often follows

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When America retreats, chaos often follows

Our aim is to partner with our friends and vigorously oppose our enemies. A strong, secure, and vibrant Middle East is in our common interests.

By Mike Pompeo (The Diplomat)

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Published: Fri 11 Jan 2019, 7:54 PM

Last updated: Sat 12 Jan 2019, 12:14 AM

We need to acknowledge that truth, because if we don't, we make bad choices - now and in the future. And our choices, the choices we make today have consequences for nations, and for millions and millions of people, for our safety, for our economic prosperity, for our personal freedoms, and those of our children.
We grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radicalism, a debauched strain of the faith that seeks to upend every other form of worship or governance.
Daesh drove to the outskirts of Baghdad as America hesitated. They raped and pillaged and murdered tens of thousands of innocents. They birthed a caliphate across Syria and Iraq and launched terror attacks that killed all across continents.
America's reluctance, our reluctance, to wield our influence kept us silent as the people of Iran rose up against the mullahs in Tehran in the Green Revolution. The ayatollahs and their henchmen murdered, jailed, and intimidated freedom-loving Iranians, and they wrongly blamed America for this unrest when it was their own tyranny that had fueled it. Emboldened, the regime spread its cancerous influence to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria, and still further into Lebanon.
Our penchant, America's penchant, for wishful thinking led us to look the other way as Hezbollah, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime, accumulated a massive arsenal of approximately 130,000 rockets and missiles. When Bashar Assad unleashed terror upon ordinary Syrians and barrel-bombed civilians with sarin gas, a true echo of Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurdish people, we condemned his actions. But in our hesitation to wield power, we did nothing.
Our eagerness to address only Muslims and not nations ignored the rich diversity of the Middle East and frayed old bonds. It undermined the concept of the nation-state, the building block of international stability. And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy. So today, what did we learn from all of this? We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with enemies, they advance.
The good news. The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning.
For those who fret about the use of American power, remember this: America has always been, and always will be, a liberating force, not an occupying power. We've never dreamed of domination in the Middle East. Can you say the same about Iran?
In World War II, American GIs helped free North America from Nazi occupation. Fifty years later, we assembled a coalition to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Would the Russians or Chinese come to your rescue in the same way, the way that we have?
And when the mission is over, when the job is complete, America leaves. When we do set up major bases, as we've done in Bahrain, in Kuwait, in Qatar, and in Turkey and the Emirates, it's at the invitation of the host country. In that same spirit, just last year, America bolstered a coalition of allies and partners to dismantle Daesh, liberating Iraqis, Syrians, Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, men, women, and children.
Let's turn to Iran.
President Trump has reversed our willful blindness to the danger of the regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal, with its false promises. And importantly, we fostered a common understanding with our allies of the need to counteract the Iran regime's revolutionary agenda. Nations are rallying to our side to confront the regime like never before. Egypt, Oman, Kuwait, and Jordan have all been instrumental in thwarting Iran's efforts to evade sanctions.
In Yemen, we've assisted our coalition partners as they take the lead in preventing an Iranian expansion that would be disastrous for world trade and regional security. As is always the case with America, our engagement has also been coupled with robust humanitarian aid. We've supported the UN talks to put Yemen on the path to peace.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah remains a major presence, but we won't accept this status quo. Our aggressive sanctions campaign against Iran is also directed at the terror group and its leaders, including the son of Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah.
Coalition building for America is natural, but in past years we've neglected it. This administration has enjoyed fruitful relationships in the Middle East for hundreds of years, but we must keep them and work to keep them.
Our aim is to partner with our friends and vigorously oppose our enemies, because a strong, secure, and economically vibrant Middle East is in our national interest, and it's in yours as well.
Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over.
Finally, it's never easy to recognize truth. But when we see it, we must speak it. America has been criticized for doing too much in the Middle East, and we've been criticized for doing too little. But one thing we've never been is an empire-builder or an oppressor.
- Mike Pompeo is the US Secretary of State. This is an extract from his recent speech at the University of Cairo.

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