Takeaways from yesterday’s speech:
1. After years of pursuing a strategy based on pragmatism, the President elevated enhancing democratic reforms and strengthening human rights to a US core priority for the region. This, to me, is the most critical portion of the strategy and has gone rather unreported by the press. While the President went the entire forty or so minutes without mentioning the Saudis once, a commitment to democratic reforms ties our hands in a lot of unseen ways in the region. The rhetoric was more reminiscent of a W. speech than a typical O. speech. Could this mean that the Clinton/Powers team has finally won out over the Donilon/Gates counter-weight? Maybe.
2. Syria and Iran and.. Egypt? The President spent the most time talking specifically to Syria, Iran and Egypt as part of a carrot and sticks approach. He issued his strongest words yet against Bashar Al-Assad, plainly stating that he had a choice between leading democratic reform or “stepping out of the way.” The President also chided Tehran for repressing domestic unrest and reminded the country of the Summer 2009 green movement in Iran in which the world saw brutality and violence on unarmed protesters.
As an example to countries who may be considering the cost-benefit analysis of transition, the President unveiled a relatively large economic-aid package for Egypt consisting of debt forgiveness (to the tune of $1 billion dollars), development investment, and trade partnerships. But whether this move serves more to entice other regional leaders or buy allegiance within emerging Egyptian leadership is unclear.
3. Bibi vs. the World. The President, in what I thought was uncharacteristic of his usual modus operandi, bluntly stated that the discussion on Israeli/Palestinian issues has to start with 1967 borders and security issues. This is sure to cause uproar within the Israeli community. I am still waiting to see the results of today’s (sure to be tense) meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu. My roommate had a good point about the timing with Israel and the election: While surely the President understands that Israel v. Palestine is the linchpin of any U.S.-Middle East strategy, isolating influential lobbies in the face of what is sure to be a hard election season just seems like bad domestic politics.
Predictably, hopes were squashed for a proposed U.N. resolution recognizing Palestine independent from a peace process.
The rest of the speech was just padding. Unfortunately, like many other of those within the community, I’m developing a real jadedness with the entire issue.