What Could Have Been

by Joshua Muravchik


What President Obama said: “Failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our own interests at their expense. . . . That’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement.”

What I wish he had said: “After the attacks of 9/11, President Bush executed a sharp shift in U.S. policy. Historically, America had stressed ‘stability,’ but President Bush said that the pursuit of stability at the expense of liberty had failed and had bred terrorism in the Middle East. Henceforth the United States would promote freedom in that region as we had long done elsewhere. When I came into office riding a tide of anti-Bush sentiment fueled by the war in Iraq, I was determined to undo everything he had done, so I turned away from the promotion of democracy and human rights toward a policy of ‘liberal realism,’ that put our ‘interests’ first, above all the interest of self-negation.

“Mohammed Bouazizi and millions of other ordinary Arabs and Iranians have now shown me I was wrong. If they keep it up I may even make a clean break with Bashar al-Assad, although there are few things more righteously self-negating than courting a regime that has been so anti-American for so long.”

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