Obama to highlight opportunities in post-bin Laden era, Arab spring

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Obama to highlight opportunities in post-bin Laden era, Arab spring

Post by ToddS on Thu May 19, 2011 9:51 am

Wed May 18, 1:54 pm ET

Obama to highlight opportunities in post-bin Laden era, Arab spring

By Laura Rozen
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In what's being billed as a major address, President Obama will give a foreign policy speech at the State Department Thursday. He is expected to outline his vision of the sweeping changes under way in the Middle East and North Africa and what they mean for the United States. The address will also herald the closing of the tumultuous decade following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as the war in Iraq winds down and war against terrorism recedes from center stage in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing.

Obama "views the situation in…the Middle East and North Africa as a real moment of opportunity for America and for Americans," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One Wednesday in response to questions about tomorrow's speech.

"In the last decade, our focus in the region was largely on Iraq, which was a military effort, and on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the fight against al Qaeda," Carney continued.

While the fight against al Qaeda continues, Carney said, "there is an opportunity in that region to focus on advancing our values and enhancing our security, and that's what the president looks forward to discussing tomorrow in his speech."

Even the choice of venue for the speech—the seat of U.S. diplomacy—signals the Obama administration's emphasis on a more diplomatic, less militarized U.S. engagement with the region.

Obama is also supposed to propose significant U.S. and international economic assistance to support fledgling Arab democracies, in particular in Egypt and Tunisia.

The speech is expected to be a forum for the administration "to say, look, this is an opportunity to finally turn the page on the post-9/11 decade," said Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert at George Washington University. "I will be surprised if they don't say something along the lines of—just as we said in Cairo [in Obama's June 2009 speech to the Arab world]—we want a relationship with the people of the Middle East, not just based on terrorism, but on mutual interest and respect."

Lynch also predicted Obama would emphasize that the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring, which displaced repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, while sparking similar pro-democracy protests throughout Arab world—are "being driven by the people of the region. It's not about us."

"The big difference in the DNA of these [Obama] guys and the Bush people is, the Bush people had a U.S.-centric view: that nothing happens in the world if the United States is not at the center of it," Lynch said. The Obama administration "believes the United States has an important role to play, but is not the driver."

In the context of the Arab Spring, "one of the biggest challenges of the speech will be explaining to Americans that this is not primarily about us," agreed Heather Hurlburt, a former Clinton administration speechwriter. "It is about aspirations we recognize," said Hurlburt, who is now executive director of the progressive National Security Network, "but it is not going to happen on our timetable."

Hurlburt suggests that Obama will use his remarks to "connect what is about us—our security and values, and our enduring interests vis a vis Israel, etc. with what is not about us, in terms of the pace, structure and form of change."

Obama needs to lay out a "strategy that provides a way in which each of these issues," said Duke University's Bruce Jentleson, referring to the Arab spring rebellions, the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Libyan conflict, the Syrian regime's ongoing crackdown against its population, etc. is part of a "whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, but somehow integrated." Added Jentleson, who has consulted for the Obama administration State Department on Middle East policy, "Even on the Arab spring, it's one thing to say we are working with the forces seeking political change, but that doesn't mean the same thing in each country."

(U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking at Cairo University, Egypt on June 4, 2009, called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims.": Ben Curtis/AP)

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