At 11:40 today, Barack Obama will give what some are calling the Cairo II speech, a follow-up address on the Middle East and the US backing for popular, representative government in the region.  His Cairo I speech was generally considered a success, although ultimately forgettable, mainly because Obama himself failed its first test in Tehran within days of its delivery — and that after the White House specifically tied the Green Revolution uprising (that it refused to support for months) to the speech.  Now Obama will once again address the issue of freedom, liberty, and peace in a speech, this time perhaps aimed more for American voters than Middle Eastern audiences, but will he live up to his own rhetoric, or again ignore freedom-loving Iranians (and Syrians)?

Politico offers a list of five questions about the speech today:

  • How far on Syria will Obama go? — I suspect he’ll only go as far as the sanctions announced yesterday, which Andrew Malcolm helpfully reminds us were preceded by weeks of warning to get funds out of the US.  If he calls for Assad’s resignation, he’ll end up looking impotent, as he has no real means to affect it, but without it, he will leave Syrian dissidents wondering why Hosni Mubarak had to go but not Bashar Assad.  Politico’s Josh Gerstein thinks Obama will try to split the difference: “Obama’s formulation could hint at Assad’s exit, while stopping just short of demanding his ouster.”
  • How much will he say on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how specific will he be? – He’ll probably want to say plenty, but will restrain himself.  Benjamin Netanyahu is on his way to the US for an important summit, and the union of Fatah and Hamas has more or less scuttled Obama’s plans to get Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas on the same page.  Obama is facing pressure in the region to start pressuring both sides for movement, but Fatah’s alignment with Hamas has all but scotched any chance of an agreement.
  • Will Obama Unveil a Marshall Plan for the Arab world? – Oh, I’m sure Obama will highlight new aid proposals, but no one has the money for a Marshall Plan any longer.  I read a rather cogent dismissal of the concept yesterday, but I’ll be darned if I can remember where.  The reason the Marshall Plan worked in Europe after World War II is because Europe was already industrialized; they just needed recapitalization.  We’ve been doing Marshall Plans in Africa and now Afghanistan for decades to no avail.
  • Will Obama lay out a uniform doctrine, or improvise? – Wasn’t this the White House that snorted derisively at the concept of “doctrines” during the Arab Spring?  Consistency would be nice, but this administration has spent the last several months playing it by ear.  Without a significant change in personnel, I doubt they’ll produce a “doctrine” today — but that then opens Obama to criticism of failing to deliver on expectations with major policy speeches, a failure which has become a habit.
  • What’s next? — More speeches?  This could be another expectations problem for Obama.  In the wake of his Cairo speech, what was next was an utter failure to support popular, democratic demands for reform in Iran.  Don’t be surprised if the same thing is “next” after Cairo II, in Iran and in Syria.