On Thursday President Obama attempted another “new beginning” with the peoples of the Middle East in his address on the “Arab Spring.” He aimed to overcome the skepticism that now hangs over his administration’s policies in the region and the growing sentiment that with the recent changes in the region, U.S. influence was, in any case, fast fading.
He aligned himself with the struggles for dignity and “self determination” of the peoples of the region. He committed the United States to promoting reform and supporting transitions to democracy, especially in Egypt and Tunisia. And his assertion “that we can not hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights,” must be welcomed, as must be the financial support offered to Egypt and Tunisia.
But Obama’s claim that U.S. values and interests could be aligned with the values and hopes of the region’s people was less than convincing. A good start would have been a clear acknowledgement, not a vague reference to “suspicions,” of past mistakes in U.S. policy in pursuit of its own narrower interests in the region.