President Obama’s “major” speech on the Middle East and North Africa struck many observers as one that could have been given by his predecessor. And for good reason. Forced by events to choose between a “realist” approach to the events unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa and the more aspirational approach adopted by former President George W. Bush, President Obama channeled his “inner Bush” and went all in.
Walter Mead has a sharp analysis. Some excerpts:
President Obama has deep-sixed the ‘realism’ that marked the first two years of his approach to the Middle East. He has returned to the foreign policy of George W. Bush.
The United States is no longer, the President told us in words he could have borrowed from his predecessor, a status quo power in the Middle East. The realist course of cooperating with oppressive regimes in a quest for international calm is a dead end. It breeds toxic resentment against the United States; it stores up fuel for an inevitable conflagration when the oppressors weaken; it stokes anti-Israel resentment when hatred of Israel becomes the only form of political activism open to ordinary people; it strengthens the hold of extremist religion and strangles the growth of liberal forces.
More, he attacked Iran. All that talk about avoiding polarization with Iran is gone. Instead, President Obama singled out Iran as an oppressive, tyrannical regime supporting terror and running an “illicit nuclear program” as well.
He also followed Bush in attacking some US allies, calling on Bahrain and Yemen to make changes. It was a speech that enraged almost every powerful actor in the Middle East and put America out on a limb. Like Bush, Obama is willing to confront some of America’s closest allies (the Saudis, who back the crackdown in Bahrain). Like Bush, he hailed Iraq as an example of democracy and pluralism that can play a vital role in the transformation of the region. Like Bush, he proposes to work with opposition groups in friendly countries.
His policy on Israel-Palestine is also looking Bushesque. Like Bush, he wants a sovereign but demilitarized Palestinian state. Like Bush, he believes that the 1967 lines with minor and mutually agreed changes should be the basis for the permanent boundaries between the two countries — and like Bush he set Jerusalem and the refugees to one side.
Read the whole thing.