Analysis of President Obama’s Speech

May 19, 2011 By John Glenn

President Obama delivered a much anticipated address on U.S. policy in North Africa and the Middle East this afternoon, timing it to broadcast prime time in cities like Cairo and Damascus and to reach beyond just a U.S. audience.  By giving his address at the State Department, President Obama underscored the leadership of American diplomacy in responding to the “Arab Spring” and popular protest in the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed and introduced the President by noting that “alongside our colleagues in the Defense Department, America’s diplomats and development experts of the State Department and USAID are on the front lines of protecting America’s security, advancing America’s interests, and projecting America’s values.”  She echoed his call for a new results-oriented approach to “how we advance our values, project our leadership and strengthen our partnerships.”

“America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region,” President Obama said, as he renewed his call for broader U.S. “engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”  He reaffirmed the Administration’s commitments to build networks of entrepreneurs, foster educational exchange, encourage scientific collaboration, and provide assistance to civil society.  He emphasized the focus on trade and investment in the region with the aim of ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other.

The address laid out four proposals for American policies in North Africa and the Middle East:

  • First, the World Bank and IMF will present plan at next week’s G8 meeting to stabilize and modernize economies of Tunisia and Egypt.
  • Second, so that Egypt will not “be saddled by the debts of its past,” President Obama promised debt relief of up to $1 billion and guaranteed up to $1 billion in borrowing to help finance infrastructure and job creation.
  • Third, the Administration will work with Congress to create new Enterprise Funds modeled on those that supported democratic transitions in Eastern Europe.  OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region, and the President will work the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development to provide support.
  • Fourth, President Obama announced a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa for countries that “adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization.”

While these proposals do not contain major new financial commitments, they come at a time of tremendous budgetary pressures on American foreign policy.  Numerous proposals have circulated on Capitol Hill for ways to cut government spending as part of a deal to raise the U.S. debt limit.  The Pentagon announced a review yesterday that will give the President options for the $400 billion in cuts to security programs announced last month.   As Secretary Clinton noted in her introduction, the events in North Africa and the Middle East highlight why the work to ensure adequate resources for development and diplomacy is so important and “why we need to keep making the case for those resources.”

For another perspective, check out Josh Rogin’s word cloud of the President’s speech.