After months of hesitation during which his administration tried contradictory policy options, Pres. Barack Obama has put the United States on the side of those who are fighting for reform and democracy in the Greater Middle East. His message to the despots was: Reform, or go.
Some rulers he mentioned by name, among them Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi. Others he hinted at, among them the petro-monarchs of the Persian Gulf.
On Iran, the president showed that he has moved away from his dream of charming Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into abandoning his nuclear ambitions.
On the Arab–Israeli issue, he admitted his failure to do anything more than kick the can down the road. Three years into his presidency, Obama is left with nothing resembling a policy on what the president has often described as “the most important issue” of concern in the region.
Obama’s speeches have often been good, as speeches go. And yesterday’s was no exception. The speech showed a president who, mugged by reality, has abandoned some of his old illusions.
While that is certainly welcome, what is still needed is an American strategy to deal with the Greater Middle East at a time of exceptional volatility. Beyond a few token ideas about arranging a package of economic aid for Tunisia and Egypt and promoting joint ventures in the region, the speech lacked concrete policy options.
— Amir Taheri is author of The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution.