Foreign Policy Blogs

Quick Reaction to Pres. Obama's Middle East Speech

The problem with President Obama’s “Remarks on the Middle East and North Africa” is that it is already being regarded by almost everyone as a speech on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  This is a shame because it wasn’t what the speech should have been about (and actually otherwise was about) at all.  For that reason, I don’t really see how it could be regarded as anything other than a missed opportunity.

Obama delivered this speech in the first place because the region that was its subject has been churning in ways that present both perils and opportunities for the people there, for U.S. foreign policy and the world.  His administration stumbled in establishing a coherent response to the “Great Arab Revolt of 2011” at first, but what is much more important is their plan for helping the region progress going forward.  This was the real mission of the speech.  Obama did a decent job with this at first, but then he somewhat inexplicably took a detour to chase the dream that is Palestinian-Israeli peace – something even the greenest foreign policy hand would know was a high risk to be a headline-stealer.  Tragically, it has also been a mirage so far, and it certainly was not a key reason people have been taking to the streets in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab World.

I’m not saying that conflict isn’t important within the region.  What I am saying is that there is more to the region – especially right now – and the detour took the speech off-message.  It was a wasted opportunity.  One shouldn’t put too much stock in speeches; what matters much more is policy follow through and the outcomes they produce.  There were some interesting starts there related to Egypt’s development on that score.  But speeches do help governments explain themselves and their intentions, and in that way are important tools of public diplomacy.  Unfortunately, this one will likely prove more of a distraction than anything else.



Ryan Haddad

Ryan Haddad is the Senior Blogger for U.S. Foreign Policy at FPA. A foreign affairs and national security analyst based in Washington, D.C., he worked in European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Bush Administration and is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Providence College. He can be followed on Twitter at @RIHaddad.