In fact, if we take his words seriously, it will be very hard for America to live up to his promises. His most detailed discussion was on the economies of states in transition and the need to help. But the problems require more than statements and debt relief, if we are to help countries meet rising expectations in the region given the serious structural and population problems that many Middle East countries face.
His call for self-determination for people as opposed to states is a direct challenge, not only to states in the Middle East but also to autocratic regimes everywhere. And it represents a significant change in our traditional approach to state based international relations. As such, it looks more like a talking point than a realistic goal. The entire thrust of his speech was that we would be going over the heads of governments in the region to respect the will of the people and particularly of the next generation.
He was careful, however, to herald the Arab spring as having Arab ownership, and not as the product of U.S. policy. His attempt to distinguish between the robust U.S. and allied policy toward Libya and the softball policy toward Syria fell short of explaining the reasons for differentiation.
It appeared that Obama still clings to the hope that Bashar al Assad will change his mind about his violent approach to the demonstrators although I see no evidence to support this hope. By all accounts, the Syrians think repression is working. Since the Syrians have been isolated for years, the threat of further isolation and meaningless sanctions is not likely to cause much heartburn among the Allawite leaders who have proven their mettle in terms of violent and brutal repression of their own people over the years.