Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference in Cairo, Jan. 10. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did his best on Thursday to paper over the contradictions in the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, in a speech that was heavy on Iran bashing and light on criticism of U.S. allies.

The big picture: Pompeo performed his greatest verbal gymnastics when seeking to project an image of U.S. resolve against both Iran and the Islamic State, or ISIS, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria — the main purpose of the secretary’s current Mideast tour. But given varying White House statements, Pompeo’s claims that withdrawing the 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria doesn't constitute “a change in mission” deserve skepticism.

Details: Pompeo directed heavy rhetorical fire at Iran. In contrast to President Obama — who in a major 2009 address in Cairo expressed his desire for a new relationship with Tehran, despite a history of mutual grievances — Pompeo promised “to confront the ayatollahs, not coddle them” and to combat “the full array of the regime’s malign activities.”

  • He defended the Trump administration’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and said that the 12 demands he outlined for Iran to become a “normal nation” in his first major speech as secretary last May are still U.S. policy.

Unlike his predecessor in the George W. Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice, who chided U.S. partners for jailing dissidents, Pompeo made no mention of Saudi Arabia's brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi or its continued incarceration of peaceful advocates of reform.

Pompeo also called on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to “unleash the creative energy of Egypt’s people,” but praised his “courage” in “promoting religious freedom” — even as some 60,000 political prisoners languish in Egyptians jails, five years after Sisi took power in a coup.

The bottom line: To the extent that the Trump administration has a strategy for the Middle East, it appears light on military presence and heavy on rhetoric and economic sanctions. Echoing Obama, Pompeo called this a “new beginning,” but whether it will be any more successful than his predecessors' initiatives remains to be seen.

Barbara Slavin directs the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Macron visits Beirut promising a "new political pact" for Lebanon

Macron visits the hard-hit Gemmayzeh neighborhood. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron walked through the blast-damaged streets of Beirut on Thursday, swarmed by people chanting for the fall of Lebanon's government and pleading for international aid.

Why it matters: Lebanon is at a breaking point. Its economy was collapsing and its government hardly functioning — all before a massive explosion destroyed swathes of the capital city, including its vital port.

2 hours ago - Sports

The PGA Championship is golf's first major in over a year

Photo: Gary Kellner/PGA of America via Getty Images

The 2020 PGA Championship tees off Thursday at San Francisco's TPC Harding Park, which is hosting its first-ever major.

Why it matters: It's the first major in more than a year — and the first of seven majors in the next 12 months. Though there won't be any fans in attendance, the excitement is palpable.

July's jobs report could be an inflection point for the coronavirus recovery

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Even if Friday's jobs report shows a big number, it is becoming clear hiring slowed and likely even reversed course in July and real-time indicators suggest the employment situation worsened into August.

Driving the news: Payroll processor ADP's monthly jobs report showed private companies added 167,000 jobs last month, well below the 1.2 million expected by economists and far below June's 4.8 million jobs added.