There is no world leader that is more skilled at speechmaking than Barack Obama, especially when it comes to inspiring rhetoric that resonates with deep and widely held human aspirations. And his speech on Middle East policy, symbolically delivered to a Washington audience gathered at the State Department, was no exception, and it contained certain welcome reassurances about American intentions in the region. I would point to his overall endorsement of the Arab Spring as a demonstration that the shaping of political order ultimately is a prerogative of the people. Further that populist outrage if mobilized is capable of liberating an oppressed people from the yoke of brutal and corrupt dictatorships, and amazingly to do so without recourse to violence. Obama also was honest enough to acknowledge that the national strategic interests of the United States sometimes take precedence over this preferential option for democracy and respect for human rights. Finally, his proposed $1 billion in debt relief for Egypt was a concrete expression of support for the completion of its revolutionary process, although the further $1 billion tied to an opening to outside investment and a free trade framework was far more ambiguous, threatening the enfeebled Egyptian economy with the sort of competitive intrusions that have been so devastating for indigenous agriculture and industry throughout the African continent.
But let’s face it, when the soaring language is taken away, we should not be surprised that Obama continues to seek approval, as he has throughout his presidency, from the hawks in the State Department, the militarists in the Pentagon, and capitalist true believers on Wall Street. Such are the fixed parameters of his presidency with respect to foreign policy and explain why there is so much disappointment among his former most ardent followers during his uphill campaign for the presidency, who were once energized and excited by the slogan “change, yes we can!” [....]
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