President Obama's long-awaited "Cairo II" speech will be delivered today, not in Cairo, but at the State Department (a pretty safe place to deliver a speech, by comparison) and partly because there has been so much build-up to the speech, I'm not expecting much. I've had a few conversations with officials about the speech, and the consensus is that it won't do much to allay the 360-degree criticism of the Administration: President Obama will nod in the direction of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (now at its lowest moment, umm, ever), but is not issuing a concrete plan to start negotiations again (not that he should -- there's really no reason to do so when no one is interested). He might still endorse the notion that the 1967 borders of Israel should be the basis of negotiations, and some people might interpret this as revolutionary, but, of course, we've been here before -- it's what Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were negotiating with Bill Clinton at Camp David 11 years ago.
The president will talk about his tough new sanctions against the Syrian leadership, but it seems unlikely that he will give Bashar al-Assad the full Qaddafi treatment. He will mention Bahrain -- the real fault-line in the Middle East today -- but the Administration is sticking with the royal family (see my recent piece on how the Administration has gone into the monarchy-maintenance business), and so on. It's not entirely clear to me why he's giving this speech, other than to align himself in a most general way with the forces of change. I'm all for a general realignment, but the boldest moves -- to call on the dictator of Syria to resign, to push back hard against often-expressed Saudi fears of freedom -- I'm not sure are coming. But we'll see. In the meantime, read this new Pew poll on Arab attitudes toward the U.S. and toward al Qaeda. It's sobering, especially the questions related to Obama's low-standing. And especially the fact that 28 percent of Palestinians polled had a favorable impression of al Qaeda. Not a happy number.
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