As authoritarian Arab regimes started to crumble this year, many Arab intellectuals looked at what they saw as America's halting response and concluded that Obama risked ending up on the wrong side of history. But what they were really seeing, some regional experts say, was the reality of US interests trumping other motivations and sometimes even ideals.
"The Arab world may have thought that the problem with America was George W. Bush, but what both Obama and the Arabs discovered is that it's not just a matter of public relations," says Ariel Roth, director of global security studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Sometimes American interests are in direct conflict with the articulated interests of the Arab world."
Overall, the task for the US earlier this year quickly became how to shift from supporting authoritarian regimes to advocating their democratic replacements while safeguarding the region's stability. Inevitably, some groups were going to feel disappointed, says Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation in Washington.