Obama’s speech today on his Middle East policy needs to do what his last major foreign policy address failed to—give a broad, coherent vision of his goals in the region, and explain how we get there.
Already there are some hints about the president’s plans. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama’s decision to make the speech at the State Department represents a policy shift toward diplomacy and democracy promotion, and away from the “realist” philosophy of the Pentagon. Jay Solomon and Adam Entous write:
Even as the U.S. pursues “principally military and intelligence efforts” to fight terrorism and build toward an exit from Afghanistan, “the longer future in the Middle East we believe will have a huge diplomatic component to it,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
That puts the military in a bind. Many in the Pentagon ascribe to what Washington policy wonks call the “realist” theory of foreign policy, which believes in narrowly defined international goals, not reshaping the world. “We take countries as they are, not as we might wish they could be,” said a senior military officer working on the Middle East.
Since Obama’s last speech on Libya, many have found his foreign policy contradictory. Why did the U.S. intervene in Libya while ignoring Syria? But the administration’s decision to tighten sanctions on Syria yesterday indicates that they may be moving toward a more consistent policy. It’s more important for Obama to clearly articulate the philosophy that will drive his Middle East strategy than to lay out specific solutions to individual problems in the region.