In a much-hyped speech on Thursday, President Obama said the U.S. would help Tunisia and Egypt enact democratic reforms by offering both countries new aid and investment. He also endorsed, more clearly than ever, the idea of establishing a Palestinian state along pre-1967 borders as a way to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As well, Obama denounced regimes in Libya, Syria, and Iran for using violence to silence demonstrators demanding greater freedom. Did the president spell out a brave new vision for U.S. policy in the Middle East, or merely make a lot of empty promises? (Watch a clip from Obama's speech.)
This should shake up the status quo: Obama's speech had "some real steel," says Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post. He "bluntly condemned the repression" used to quell Arab protests, and he didn't spare friends, such as Bahrain. The president also prodded Israel by suggesting Palestinian borders they won't like, then "acidly dismissed the plan by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations General Assembly this September." As usual, Obama used soaring rhetoric, but it's "those specific zingers" that will shake things up.
"The steel in Obama’s Mideast speech"
Ultimately, this was a letdown: Obama's promise to forgive debts and expand trade with Egypt and Tunisia, and make those nations "models for peaceful change" sounds smart, says Shaun Mullen at The Moderate Voice. But where was the demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose repressive tactics have killed hundreds of protestors, step down? And why didn't Obama scold the Palestinian leadership for cozying up to Hamas? The president was supposed to be describing — to Arabs, Israelis, and Americans — his vision for a "post-Osama bin Laden world," but offered "little to chew on."
"Obama's disappointing Middle East speech gives Arabs, as well as Israel, little to chew on"
And his Mideast peace strategy won't work: Now we know what Obama is basing his "entire Middle-East policy" on, says Tony Katz at Pajamas Media. The linchpin is his endorsement of pre-1967 borders as the starting point for Mideast peace negotiations, something Israel opposes. And, given both history and recent events, it's hard to believe Israel could ever be secure under that plan.
"Obama on the Middle East: Pre-1967 borders"
He didn't even break new ground: Despite all the fanfare, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, Obama didn't stake out a new position on Mideast peace. "The entire speech could easily have been delivered by George W. Bush." Once again, the White House has "inflated expectations for a major address just to deliver routine white-paper positions and lip service on democratization. The speech was nothing special at all."
"Obama's Cairo II speech: Cheering democratization — in general"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- America created the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Meet the ISIS 'truthers'
- How American businessmen are ruining American business — and the U.S. economy
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Russia's giant spy ship was a high-tech disaster waiting to happen
- The Obama era is over. The presidency continues.
- On ISIS, neocons and liberal hawks have a 'boy who cried wolf' problem
- 10 things you need to know today: September 2, 2014
- Fall movie guide: All the films you should see in September
- How Harry Houdini escaped death
- The 10 best networking tips for people who hate networking
Subscribe to the Week