• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Obama Misses Opportunity in “Moment of Opportunity” Middle East Speech

    President Obama today delivered a lengthy speech on U.S. policy in the Middle East that promised continued American support for democratic transitions in the countries influenced by the “Arab Spring.” He outlined an overly optimistic vision of what an Israeli–Palestinian peace settlement would look like. But he missed an opportunity to express strong U.S. support for democratic opposition movements brutally repressed by two dictatorships that stand as the chief barriers to realizing American goals in the Middle East: Iran and Syria.

    The President reviewed the “extraordinary change” that has recently taken place in Tunisia and Egypt and lamented: “Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have been answered by violence.” While he talked at length about the violent regime reaction in Libya, he shortchanged discussion of the systematic repression in Syria and Iran and failed to announce concrete policies that would help beleaguered democratic forces in those countries to advance freedom and defend human rights.

    Instead he stuck with the flawed and fuzzy thinking that his Administration has displayed on Syria, saying, “President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.” In fact, Assad will surely make neither of those choices but will continue to cling to power by mowing down and arresting his own people.

    But the Obama Administration has still not called on the Syrian dictator to step down or even say that he has lost his legitimacy, as it previously did with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an authoritarian leader allied with Washington who was responsible for far less human rights abuse, corruption, and repression than Assad. Moreover, Mubarak was an ally against terrorist groups, while Assad and his Iranian backers are the chief state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East.

    This fuzzy thinking is also apparent in the President’s statements about reviving Israeli–Palestinian peace negotiations. The popular uprisings of the Arab Spring have demonstrated that the Arab–Israeli conflict is not the only source—or even the primary source—of the violence and instability that has roiled the Middle East. Predatory regimes that oppress and steal from their own citizens, use Israel as a convenient scapegoat, and exploit terrorism to advance their interests inside and outside their own territories are a far greater danger to regional peace and stability.

    President Obama’s speech glossed over the threats to peace posed by these regimes and the terrorist groups that they support. He stated: “I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.” But his Administration continues to misread the past—in particular, how continued Palestinian terrorism, backed by Syria and Iran, torpedoed the Israeli–Palestinian peace talks and led to the current stalemate in negotiations.

    This misreading of the past and underestimation of the terrorist threat is evident in the President’s statement about the need to return to Israel’s 1967 borders. After all, Israel’s 2005 withdrawal to its 1967 border with Gaza led not to peace but to expanded terrorism after Hamas staged a bloody coup in 2007 and transformed Gaza into a base for launching rockets against Israeli civilians. Israel cannot afford to return to its 1967 border with the West Bank unless it has ironclad guarantees that any territory relinquished will not again be transformed into a base for future terrorist attacks. This is impossible as long as Hamas, committed to Israel’s destruction, remains a potent force.

    The Israeli government was quick to react to the Obama speech, tweeting its disappointment that the Obama Administration departed from a previous understanding reached with the Bush Administration on the need for modifications in its 1967 borders. Given the long record of failed agreements with the Palestinians, any future agreement must be based on Israel’s legitimate security requirements, including the need for secure borders and concrete Palestinian policies to fight terrorism.

    For more on what the President should have said in his Middle East speech, see:

    After bin Laden: Top Five Agenda Items for Obama’s Middle East Speech

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    13 Responses to Obama Misses Opportunity in “Moment of Opportunity” Middle East Speech

    1. A. Terranova, Ormond says:

      Only a fool would take Obama's bait on this travesty called an Israeli/Palestinian peace.

    2. Chaya says:

      Just want to say thank you for your article. I hope you realize that there was never a 'Palestinian' people. This is all a ruse – a plan – for Israel's destruction. That is what the 'right of return' is all about. I posted the article on my FB page.

    3. Slick in Nebraska says:

      There is a real possibility that the best and kindest thing OUR President can do is SHUT UP!!!! It seems like he speaks too much, interferes on a routine basis in the business of countries around the world, and he somehow imagines himself the see-all, know-all superior leader of the universe!

      I certainly do not pretend to have all the initials after my name that the President has, but I do know one thing: if you don't know what it is that you are talking about, perhaps it is time to listen instead, learning what you obviously don't know!

      The President is really starting to look like a baffoon and so once again, one has to wonder who this man's advisors are? A person is judged by and reflected as a representation of the company he keeps . . . . who is advising the President that is trying to quite literally destroy Israel?

      This President totally lacks a foreign policy, and therefore he is "shooting from the hip." I don't know why anyone in the world would want to hear what this guy has to say!

    4. Pingback: Morning Bell: Standing Strong with Israel | The Foundry

    5. Perry, North Carolin says:

      there is a huge flaw in the "arab spring." those are not democracy movements. they are movements by muslims — muslim brotherhood etc to oust the present ruler so that can take power.

    6. Jadson Paulino, Braz says:

      Slick, I agree with your words! I don’t know why anyone in the world would want to hear what this guy has to say too!

    7. Terry - Maryland says:

      How ironic that the President, formerly a movie star like sultan of the Democratic Party, makes a speech that will alienate Jewish voters, one of his prime constituencies. This will certainly detract and then some from his temporary gains in the polls from the death of Bin Laden.

    8. Old Timer New Mexico says:

      My family has always tried to adhere to the saying (origin unknown) it is better to sit quietly and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and erase all doubt

      It is a shame that our constitution did not grant the ability to remove one from the presidency for extreme incompetance

    9. Kate, Parker says:

      Ditto, Slick in Nebraska! I believe the President may be listening to Cass Sunsteins' wife, Samantha Power and his anti-Israel friends from Chicago including Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers…it is apparent he believes the Israelis are occupiers. Cannot wait to hear Netanyahu speak to Congress!

    10. Pingback: Morning Bell: After bin Laden | The Foundry

    11. Ro Tolar, Horseshoe says:

      I was particularly interested in watching Obama's face as he glared at the Israeli PM while O's middle-east "peace plan" was dismantled. It was apparent that Obama had the misguided belief that his plan would lead to a second Nobel Peace Medal!

      It is a credit to the PM that he could control his anger over Obama's insulting behavior.

    12. Pingback: Morning Bell: After bin Laden « The perpetual view's Blog

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×