My Reax to Obama’s Speech

I jumped into The Arena with these thoughts in response to the question: Did Obama lay out a cohesive vision for the Middle East in his speech?

Calling Obama’s address a grand new vision of the Middle East is a bit of an overstatement. The peace process portion will be over-analyzed ad infinitum, when there is very little new in what Obama outlined on that front and it does not meet fundamental Palestinian requirements. The Palestinian Authority isn’t interested in land-swaps!

There were some particularly interesting points, however.

Calls to support development and the rights of minorities and women are encouraging. A presidential statement that these are American priorities is important and hopefully they will be backed by diplomacy. Unfortunately, development will be limited because – quite simply – the United States doesn’t have any money. ($2 billion is only a bare beginning for the level of investment needed.)

The discussion of trade was particularly interesting. Free trade can be important to both economic and political transformation. But the Middle East is not exactly a hotbed of export industries and the American political climate towards free trade is a bit chilly right now. Still, an emphasis on this issue is welcome and could reap important long-term benefits.

It is interesting that throughout the world in places as different as Asia and Latin America, the U.S. has threaded the needle and managed to ally with governments while at the same time pressing them towards greater respect for human rights and freedom. The Middle East has been the great exception. Is this only because of the American preference for stability? There have been limited efforts to foster change (anyone remember the Gore-Mubarak Commission?) They have borne little fruit.

It is good that the president re-affirmed the American commitment to freedom, but the Middle East labors under the weight of its history and culture. Hopefully there is real change for the better coming and the U.S. can help. But we must also be wary that history can take terrible turns.

Finally, Obama’s quoting the Declaration of Independence was welcome. Those words are beautiful and profound. Our lives are richer for hearing them anywhere and everywhere.

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