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Two Speeches and Three Challenges: Obama and the Middle East

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TEHRAN, May 31 (ICANA) – President Obama gave two speeches on May 19th and 21st regarding the Middle East. The first speech was delivered at the US State Department, and reviewed the developments and popular uprisings within the past six months. The second speech was delivered at the annual meeting of the American-Israeli Public Relations Committee.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011 9:30:41 PM
Two Speeches and Three Challenges: Obama and the Middle East

Both speeches were highly publicized. Particularly the first speech, which was delivered at the State Department and highlighted the role of this ministry and Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State, or foreign minister, which was an unprecedented act.

Obama’s speech at the AIPAC conference was also very important. Before this speech Obama met with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, at the White House and discussed his first speech in which he brought up the 1967 borders.

Israeli propaganda against the 1967 borders and the fact that the Israeli government announced that it would not accept those borders, in addition to their harsh and official statements, actually demeaned Obama as the president of the United States. However, he reiterated his position in his AIPAC speech as well.

Beyond the controversial issue of the 1967 borders, the important issue in these two speeches by Obama is the analysis of US policies toward the Middle East. How can we assess these two speeches from the main lines and frameworks of US foreign policy?

I should say that despite their flamboyant appearance these speeches demonstrated the fact that the United States still faces major and constant challenges in the Middle East.

The “mentality”, “orientation” and “limitation” challenges are more accurately discussed and reflected upon here.

The “Mentality” Challenge

Obama’s speeches showed that the main structural fault in the American foreign policy approach is an accurate understanding of the Middle East and the US position in this region. In his remarks, especially the first speech, he tried to show that the US was supportive of the popular uprisings for democracy and civil rights in this region. Perhaps this was the first time that the people of the Middle East were considered at the level of a presidential speech.

However, Obama has forgotten that one of the main reasons behind these uprisings is American policy in this region during the past 30-50 years, and US support of its allies in the Arab Middle East.

Obama skillfully mentioned that the people in the Middle East suffer from two problems; first referring problems to external factors, and second domestic politics. However, he does not consider the fact that referring problems to external factors like the US and Israel is not without any reason and is rooted in concepts that form US foreign policy. Paying attention to these concepts will reveal the fact that not only is the US not a part of the solution to the current popular uprisings, but is a part of the problem itself.

Has Obama forgotten that three weeks prior to Mubarak’s fall he and Hillary Clinton were among his supporters? The same applies to Ben Ali of Tunisia as well. Even though he criticized the Al Khalifa regime in Bahrain, I should emphasize that this regime is still considered an ally of the US. Therefore, he evaded mentioning the fact that US allies in the region are those that create crises and trouble for the people in the Middle East.

The US cognitive challenge is not limited to understanding the problem that puppet governments pose to the region. The US assesses the Arab-Israeli conflict only in terms of hope and hatred. In other words, Obama emphasized that we should not focus solely on past hatred and should have hope in the future. However, he does not refer to the fact that the reason behind Middle Eastern hatred toward US foreign policy is its unconditional support of Israel.

The “Orientation” Challenge

The truth is that US foreign policy has always tilted toward Israeli interests. Obama’s speech at AIPAC illustrates America’s oriented approach toward the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is even concerned over the Palestinian desire to take the proposal of an independent Palestinian country to the UN General Assembly. He condemns the Palestinians for doing this. However, this is the least the Palestinians can do, since all their other attempts have been faced with the obstacle of Washington’s support for Tel Aviv.

The US orientation toward the Israeli cause is not a superficial challenge, but rather a structural one. Two years into his presidency, Obama has realized that he cannot move in a different direction, and considers the recognition of the Palestinian government by the UN General Assembly a threat to his foreign policy.

It is notable that the Palestinians talk about receiving 188 votes with certainty. They believe that after the issue is proposed in the Security Council and the Americans veto it, it will be returned to the General Assembly and gain 188 votes from 200 members. In other words, the US policies are in contradiction with more than 180 UN members. However he did not focus on the challenge of “Orientation” in the Middle East issue, which is prevailing US policy in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

However, we should remember that despite its vast military, political and economic presence in the Middle East, the United States faces many limitations in this region as well.

The “Limitation” Challenge

An interesting point in Obama’s speeches is the fact that he highlighted the capacity of the US in forming Middle East relationships through its selective movements, but does not consider the realities that limit US foreign policy in this region.


The initial content analysis of these two speeches is very remarkable and worth of consideration, since it reveals the limitations US foreign policy faces in the Middle East.

Obama only said one sentence about Ali Abdullah Saleh and Yemen. He did not even mention Saudi Arabia. There’s no significant issue regarding other US allies in his first speech as well. In terms of financial aid, he relieves Egypt of 1 billion USD debt to help its recovery, which in today’s economy and given the economic situation in Egypt, is not very much.

The fact that he did not bring up important issues and stayed with basic economic topics like the formation of the Enterprise Punch, or macroeconomic advice, proves the limitations he has in tackling in the Middle East.

The US limitations in the Middle East have many layers. America on the one hand has many economic and financial constraints, and on the other hand it faces problem in influencing even its allies like the Saudis.

The impact capacity of the US in Middle East relations is limited to the instant management of events, and cannot solve conflicts or shape future relations.

Another limitation it faces is the American reputation among the people of the Middle East. The US does not possess a legitimate and acceptable position in this region. As mentioned before, the reason behind this is its unconditional support for Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict. However this limitation is also observable in the minds of the secular and liberal Arab people as well.

These three challenges of “mentality”, “orientation” and “limitation” exist in both his speeches and show that Obama will most probably deliver other eloquent and beautiful remarks in May as well, but his success in leading the Middle East to a more stable, democratic and developed stage is not clear. Evidently, multiple management in a region like the Middle East, which has many players and layers, is not an easy task. (IR Diplomacy)

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