Addressing the upheavals that have occurred and transformations still in progress in the Middle East (except for one notable omission), President Barack Obama put the big shifts that the Arab Spring brought in a broader context during a major speech on Thursday at the State Department.
It was no small feat, as the president was tasked with acknowledging America’s very active role in supporting (not to mention sparking) regime change in various nations—most prominently in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya—as well as quelling fears that his focus has become too global at the expense of the domestic. Oh, and while he was at it, he also took on the foundering Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations as he anticipated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit later in the week. And finally, there were these three highly significant words to acknowledge: Osama bin Laden. —KA
Speaking at the State Department before an audience of U.S. diplomats, administration officials and foreign envoys, Obama made his first broad attempt to place the region’s wave of popular uprisings, which have swept away autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatened several others, in the context of American interests and values. Aides said he felt it was important to address the armed rebellion in Libya, the uprising in Syria and the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
In addition to denouncing the repression of protests in Libya, Syria and Iran, Obama criticized U.S. friends in the region, notably Yemen and Bahrain, where demonstrations have been met with gunfire and arrests. He did not, however, mention Saudi Arabia, which brooks no political dissent and has sent troops to aid the beleaguered monarchy in neighboring Bahrain.