President Obama's Middle East speech couldn't possibly have -- and almost certainly didn't -- please all of its potential audiences. His comments, however, were refreshingly honest in acknowledging the limitations of American power and influence and even broke new ground on a number of important subjects.
Obama returned to the theme that characterized his last major Middle East policy speech, on the Libyan intervention: the intersection, and often tension, between American interests and values. He wisely chose not to proffer a facile panacea that would almost certainly have proven unworkable.
Obama was strikingly frank in acknowledging that many Arabs feel the United States has pursued its interests "at their expense." And he bluntly stated that "there will be times when our short-term interests do not align perfectly with our long-term vision of the region," recognizing that there is no clear and consistent formula for resolving the ongoing contradictions between U.S. values and the aspirations of Arab peoples with some of Washington's interests and alliances that are still considered indispensable.
Perhaps the most important change in tone in this regard was on Bahrain, where Obama condemned the crackdown in much stronger terms than the United States has to date. He called for dialogue but noted "you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail." Even more striking, he compared the persecution of Copts in Egypt with that of Shiites in Bahrain, a stronger statement than anyone had anticipated. His remarks implicitly recognized the limitations of American influence with its own allies.