Obama’s Middle East ‘reset’ speech: A visual response

Today, President Barack Obama gave what was billed as a historic speech charting a new course for U.S. policy towards North Africa, the Middle East and the Arab world at large.


What follows is a pictorial response.

For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.  Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights.  Two leaders have stepped aside.  More may follow.  And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith.

Today, I want to talk about this change — the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.


There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years.  In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat.

So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country.  Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands.  And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home — day after day, week after week — until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds.  For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region:  countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks.

We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies.  As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind.  Moreover, 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 interests at their expense.


Given that this mistrust runs both ways — as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens — a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.

And that’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.  I believed then — and I believe now — that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals.  The status quo is not sustainable.

Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face a historic opportunity.  We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.  There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.  Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise.  But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.

The United States supports a set of universal rights.  And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders  — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

Let me be specific.  First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.

That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high — as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation.  Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership.  But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have thus far been answered by violence.  The most extreme example is Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi launched a war against his own people, promising to hunt them down like rats.  As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force — no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change — with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today.  That’s true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power.  And that’s true today in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security.  We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region.  For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.  For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.  Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself — by itself — against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.  The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.  And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region.

The United States supports a set of universal rights.  And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders  — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar.

Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire.  Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved.  And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union — organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”


Are you gonna eat that?

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