Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Myth of President Obama's Middle East Speech

This article is published in PajamasMedia.

By Barry Rubin

I don’t want to speculate about President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech. I’ll wait to hear it. But the opening line in the New York Times story about the forthcoming presentation tells us all we need to know:

“Mr. Obama will have a chance to reshape the debate on Thursday, when he delivers a major speech on the region at the State Department.”

Which debate will he reshape? The debate in the Middle East? Absolutely not.

The struggle between revolutionary Islamists, on the one hand, and everyone else will continue. Iran will still be going full speed ahead not only on developing nuclear weapons but also in subverting lots of countries. Syria will continue to shoot demonstrators. Egypt will still be headed toward a radical and perhaps even Islamist regime. Israel will go on facing a Palestinian leadership that won’t make a compromise peace. The Saudis and other Gulf Arab states will still know that the United States isn’t protecting it properly from Iran. The Turkish regime will continue its quiet Islamization of the country and developing alliance with Iran. And so on.

Perhaps Obama thinks that by making a speech he will reshape that debate. But he won’t. It’s hubris.

Either the New York Times headline writer just took the lead to make the headline or has a sense of irony in titling the article: "As Uprisings Transform Mideast, Obama Aims to Reshape the Peace Debate."

Does Obama think that liberal Arabs will be encouraged by their struggle by a few words of encouragement from the president when he has done nothing to help them in Syria and Iran? Does he think that the “Facebook kids” in Egypt who now organize violent demonstrations against Israel will love America?

Perhaps it will reshape the debate within the United States? But that’s just talking about distant problems. Most likely he hopes to reshape the debate over the competence of his policy without actually affecting the events in the region.

What needs to happen instead is that U.S. policy must be reshaped in the face of the regional realities that it persists in ignoring.

No matter what he says remember that reality.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

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