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Obama's Middle East goal: Tie US policy closer to American values

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The change in two years was striking. In Cairo, Obama spoke with one of America’s favorite autocrats, Hosni Mubarak, at his side. Now the US president spotlighted the young protesters of Cairo’s Tahrir Square who chased Mr. Mubarak from power.

Yet even among supporters of Obama’s vision of US policy toward an upended Middle East, the concern is that the lofty rhetoric won’t be easily or quickly translated into results on the Arab street.

“This speech wasn’t like Cairo, which was a message to connect with people in the Arab world. This was about strategies for the region as it undergoes profound change,” says Bruce Jentleson, professor of public policy and political science at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “This had to come with more specifics and will have to be backed up with action.”

Other more-critical regional analysts say Obama’s message may barely register among the drivers of the Arab Spring – who had already decided that the political change is about them and has little to do with the US or any other outside power.

“There’s a feeling in the Arab world that Arabs are having to take matters into their own hands, so in this situation [Obama’s speech] is not going to have that much impact,” says Marwan Muasher, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

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