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Obama's Empty Speech

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
May 19, 2011
National Review

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There were some fine sentences in President Obama's speech, but two of his main points were wrong.

The first thing he did was take credit for the Arab Spring, saying he had supported it all along. This is simply not true. The by-word early in his administration was “engagement,” with a caustic rejection of the Bush “Freedom Agenda.” Bush's tougher policies toward Iran and Syria were to be replaced by outreach, discussion, diplomacy — far more civilized. And that engagement was with the rulers, not the ruled; Obama's was a world of states, and you engaged with the people ruling them.

This policy is what led him to react so slowly and unenthusiastically when the people of Iran rose up after the stolen elections of June 2009. It is what led to silence and delay when there were uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Even today, with 1,000 peaceful protesters murdered in the streets of Syria, Obama cannot abandon engagement with Bashar al-Assad. Instead of saying Assad must go, in this speech Obama announced yet another round of outreach: “The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.” For President Obama to suggest that Assad might lead a transition to democracy is a gruesome joke to play on the people struggling for freedom in the streets of Syria.

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