Huffpost WorldPost
Daoud Kuttab Headshot

What Obama Should Say

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

When US President Barack Obama makes his scheduled speech today, he will have to deal with a totally different kind of Arab world than when he took office or when he made his famous Cairo speech.

Arab peoples led by youth, who constitute the vast majority of the population, have found their power and have been demanding a say in their future. No longer can the US or other Western countries simply depend on a few pro-Western dictators who obey the orders from Paris, London and Washington in return for those capitals ensuring that they stay in power.

America's focus on the Middle East has and continues to be one dimensional. Oil and keeping it flowing at a cheap rate has been the West's main interest in our part of the world. All other issues seem to take a distant second.

Oil will certainly continue to flow and its price will be controlled by the supply and demand mechanism.

But what those behind the newly found people power in the Arab world will be expecting from Washington is a much more equitable, just and logical foreign policy.

An equitable policy requires the US to treat the Arab region as it treats other regions. In other words, America's foreign policy should reflect mutual interests and not unilateral dictates. Arabs have political economic and social interests. They abhor anyone meddling in internal politics, especially the kind of meddling that props up dictators and turns a blind eye to human rights violations in return for narrow interests.

The US foreign policy also needs to be consistent with its values of justice and freedom.

America cannot export its products, services and pop culture while letting values such as the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression and the inalienable right to self determination stop at its shores.

Finally, US foreign policy must be logical. It cannot allow lobbyists representing a tiny domestic constituency have an exaggerated influence on America's entire policy in the Middle East.

For example, the last two US administrations representing both Republicans and Democrats said that the creation of an independent Palestinian state is in the national interest of the United States. Obama has vowed from the UN rostrum that an independent Palestine will see the light and become a full member of the United Nations by the fall of 2011. Yet despite this overwhelming and bipartisan US support for Palestinian statehood,hardcore pro-Israel lobbyists are endangering US interests by working tirelessly against Palestine's independence.

Furthermore, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has invited the anti-peace prime minister of Israel to speak to a joint session of Congress. This act would be considered shameful if any other anti-peace leader who is working against US national interests were given this unique audience.

While the US Congress does control the purse strings, the American system of government ensures that foreign policy is made and executed by the executive and not the legislative branch.

Yet it is clear that with a presidential cycle approaching, narrow political forces will try again to warp the US policy in favor of a rogue state that continues to refuse to comply with the will of the international community.

The Arab youths who caused the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt look up to America. No US flags have been burnt in recent months and the tone of the young revolutionaries has been devoid of the typical anti-imperialistic jargon that in the past characterized such revolutions.

Obama has a unique opportunity to influence America's foreign policy for years to come. All he has to do is say what he means and mean what he says. The US foreign policy that is consistent with US values will go a long way in advancing peace and justice in the Middle East.