Speaking Clearly: What Should President Obama Say to the Middle East?
Project on Middle East Democracy, January 2009.
Edited by Stephen McInerney
As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office this month, the world anxiously awaits the policies of the new American administration. Amid generally high expectations worldwide, many across the Middle East remain skeptical of the future of U.S. policy toward that region. The inaugural address on January 20 will be watched carefully and analyzed for signals of changes in policy. President Obama is also widely expected to give a major foreign policy speech in the Islamic world during his first 100 days in office. Until now, there has been more debate over where such a speech should be given than over what its content should be. But that content will be listened to intently and is critically important – when he addresses the expectant audience of the Arab and Muslim World, what should President Obama say?
To help answer this question, we at the Project on Middle East Democracy have asked a dozen respected American foreign policy voices to address the following question in 300 words or less:
At the outset of his administration, what would you advise President Obama to say to the people of the Middle East?
The selected contributors represent a wide spectrum of viewpoints and approaches to U.S. policy in the Middle East – Democrats, Republicans, and nonpartisan analysts; public opinion pollsters and academics; democracy promotion practitioners and human rights advocates. Unsurprisingly, their answers vary, in both substance and in form. Some write in the first-person, articulating explicitly what the new President ought to say to the region. Others speak in their own voice, addressing their advice directly to the incoming President. Most focus solely on the content of what should be said; a few also weigh in on how and where the message ought to be delivered.
While the dozen answers vary, there are a number of themes strongly recurring throughout them:
- Partnership – Declare that America will work with the people of the Middle East toward common goals, rather than trying (unsuccessfully) to impose America’s will on the region.
- Modesty – Don’t make lofty promises that cannot be delivered, raising false expectations; rather, be realistic and close the gap between rhetoric and policy.
- Peace – Acknowledge the suffering caused by the use of military force and by violent conflicts in the region; affirm a commitment to the peaceful resolution of existing conflicts.
- Human Rights – Offer clear support to the people of the region who seek to secure their own rights and freedoms, to reform their own societies, and to broaden political participation.
Each of the individual responses articulates more fully these themes, and spells out more specific messages that our new President ought to direct toward the people of the Middle East.
In this publication, the dozen responses are presented in full. As President-elect Obama prepares to address the people of the Arab and Muslim world and to repair our relations with that troubled region, we believe these contributions outline the key issues and approaches that he ought to consider.
Click here to view or download the full publication as a pdf.