By Daniel DePetris
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s January 10 address at the American University in Cairo was meant to be a reference point for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Yet if that was the explicit goal, the speech failed on all counts. Indeed, when Pompeo stepped off the stage in Egypt, Americans who were watching could be forgiven for believing that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be parked in the sands and valleys of the Middle East for eternity.
Rather than the speech the U.S. needed—one that establishes priorities in sync with America’s limited resources and sends a message to the region’s leaders that only they have the power to solve their own political problems—Pompeo delivered a politicized missive infused with the boilerplate conventionality prevalent in the Beltway. In the secretary’s mind, the region has become a caldron of hate, terrorism, and proxy conflict because the United States has failed to lead. Or, in Pompeo’s own words, “We [Americans] learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows.”
Much of Washington would wholeheartedly agree with this most basic sentiment. What Pompeo described as the United States being a “liberating force” for the world is a concept very much ingrained in the psyche of foreign policy elites in both parties. The foreign policy establishment’s addiction to intervening in other nation’s civil wars and picking sides in inter-state conflicts that have no direct bearing on America’s own national security has become an almost timeless, unhealthy, and self-destructive tradition. For whatever reason—delusions of grandeur; an obsession with maintaining U.S. primacy; an unwillingness to prioritize, or perhaps all of the above—administration officials continue to believe that with enough luck, “leadership, and “resolve,” there is no international problem too difficult for America to solve.
Pompeo’s address in Cairo was just the latest irritation of a common theme the American people have been hearing from their leadership for decades.
Increasingly, however, the American people aren’t buying it. Years of pouring trillions of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops into the Middle East have soured Americans to the very concepts Pompeo outlined in his speech. It turns out that, far from enhancing U.S. security, toppling established governments in a delusional attempt to plant western-style democracies is a recipe for more destabilization, violence, and terrorism. There should be no wonder why 51 percent of Americans surveyed in a recent Charles Koch Foundation/YouGov poll prefer a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan this year. Seeing little to no strategic benefit in endless military deployments, the majority of the country is more interested in introducing a large dose of restraint to the nation’s foreign policy rather than doubling down on a status-quo that has proven to be more trouble than it’s worth.
The United States is far and away the wealthiest and most powerful country on the planet. The U.S. Armed Forces are second-to-none, retaining the capability to launch military action in any corner of the world. Notwithstanding the violence in many parts of the world, the United States remains relatively secure thanks to a Western Hemisphere, the dedication and professionalism of its servicemembers, and the influence of the American financial system.
Yet with more power comes more responsibility. It’s time for the foreign policy elite in Washington to finally reach the conclusion many Americans reached years ago: while the U.S. is immensely influential, it has neither the power, influence, or interest to solve other people’s political problems.
Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Examiner on January 11, 2019. Read more HERE.