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Pompeo and Circumstance: US Policy In The Middle East

Pompeo and Circumstance: US Policy In The Middle East

Over the past week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been crisscrossing the Middle East in a bid to clarify the Trump administration's policy towards the region. He has been at particular pains to explain what Trump's hasty and controversial decision to pull US troops out of Syria means for allies and adversaries alike.

One slew of answers came in Mr. Pompeo's high-profile policy speech in Cairo last Thursday, where he framed a "new" policy in which Washington is a "force for good" that prioritizes its relationships with traditional Arab allies, rolls back Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, and focuses on fighting terrorist groups as a guiding principle for any involvement in the region.

Much of the speech was a deliberate rebuke to the Obama administration's policy of opening to Iran, its dithering responses to the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war. Also in sharp contrast to Mr. Obama, who spoke in the same place a decade ago, Mr. Pompeo pointedly omitted from his speech any words of support for democracy, human rights, or economic development – a refreshing bit of honesty, some observers have dryly noted.

There is certainly room to debate whether the ideological, hard-power focused approach that Pompeo outlined is the right one. But the speech immediately raised much more immediate and practical question: are Mike and his boss on the same page?

Pompeo's declaration that "when the US retreats, the result is chaos" contrasts sharply with President Trump's move to abruptly withdraw US troops from Syria – a decision that will likely open the way for more Iranian (and Russian) influence in the region. And just yesterday, Pompeo was curiously unable to explain Trump's offhand threat to "devastate" Turkey's economy if Ankara tries to attack Kurdish groups left vulnerable by the US withdrawal.

More broadly, Pompeo's vision of the US as a great power actively shaping the region "for good" seems out of sync with President Trump's "America First" pledges to disentangle the US from nearly two decades of combat action in the region.

Added to which, there are still critical diplomatic staff vacancies in the region – five of the nine countries Pompeo visited still have no US ambassador, and senior regional positions at the State Department remain unfilled.

Unless these policy and staffing issues are resolved, it will be difficult for the US to act credibly and coherently as a force for anything in the region – "good" or otherwise.

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As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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