Advice for Obama Ahead of His Middle East Speech

Analyst advice ranges from an apology to a unified regional strategy

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As is customary before a major presidential speech, today news outlets are busy issuing previews of what themes President Obama will touch on tomorrow night at the State Department when he delivers an address about the uprisings in the Arab world, Osama bin Laden's death, and U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Yahoo's Laura Rozen, for example, explains that the speech will "herald the closing of the tumultuous decade following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks," while Christi Parsons and Peter Nicholas at The Los Angeles Times predict that Obama "will cast the U.S. as a facilitator rather than the instigator of political change in the Arab world." As is also customary before a presidential address, analysts are offering the President some unsolicited advice about what he should say. Here's what they'd like to see him do:

  • Present a Unified Middle East Strategy  "This is a moment to have a presidential articulation of how the U.S. looks at the respective political changes in Egypt and at the terrible situation that's developing in Syria and that is ongoing in Libya," Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, tells the LA Times.
  • Explain to Americans That 'This Is Not About Us'  One of Obama's biggest challenges, former Clinton administration speechwriter Heather Hurlburt tells Yahoo, is to "connect what is about us--our security and values, and our enduring interests vis a vis Israel, etc. with what is not about us, in terms of the pace, structure and form of change."
  • Walk a Very Fine Line  Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tells Foreign Policy that "a successful speech will need to align America with the most positive aspects of Arab rebellions against autocracy; reflect a balance between the hope and fear triggered in equal parts by seismic political change; signal American support for a process of democratic choice without suggesting indifference to the outcome of free and fair elections; project both disapproval and understanding--but not endorsement--toward those U.S. friends, especially in the Gulf, who refuse reform and repress its advocates; and explain why the maniacal dictator in Libya merits NATO bombing while the capo di tutti capi in Damascus does not even merit specific personal opprobrium for his outrageous behavior." Piece of cake, right?
  • Align American Values and Interests  "The Middle East that produced Osama bin Laden is, like the man himself, gone," claim Jacob Stokes and Kelsey Hartigan at RealClearWorld. "Replacing it are mass movements of ordinary people standing up for their rights. Assisting those fighting for freedom and democracy is a bedrock American value."
  • Support People, Not Regimes  Obama, argues Mazen Hayek at Al Arabiya, must articulate whether the U.S. will build partnerships in the Middle East "with regimes or with people." Young Arabs, Hayek explains, "cannot and will not accept for the US to talk to them about democracy, liberties, freedom, human rights, universal values, advancement and partnerships, while still supporting unethical, unaccountable and non-elected forms of governments, in the name of 'regional stability' or 'strategic alliances' or 'security shield' (vs. Iran)."
  • Apologize  "For more than five decades," writes Shadi Hamid at Slate, U.S. administrations, "with surprising consistency, funded, supported, and armed some of the region's most repressive governments. (We still do.) ... If there has ever been a time to reassess and reorient U.S. policy in the Middle East, it is now."
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