The explicit theme was the belief that the net effect of the Arab Spring is positive—that the operations of history are taking the Middle East toward better governance, greater respect for human rights, and, presumably, increased security and stability. This belief in organic progress for the region contrasts with the worldview of the Bush administration, as expressed most powerfully by Vice President Cheney, which assumed that absent American initiative, trends in the global security environment were not only negative, but dire. Without vigorous U.S. action, violent extremism would grow in power and the United States would face mounting danger. While Americans might not want to engineer history, they were compelled to.
President Obama's worldview is decidedly more upbeat. This has profound implications for American policy. It means that the United States does not need to re-engineer the world, but only to prod, channel, and support transformation that is already underway. The people of the Arab world will themselves lead the way rather than being led. Ironically, this optimism resonates more of Reagan than of Bush.
The international community, according to President Obama, shares this perspective and thus will lead efforts to consolidate democracy in the Arab world. In another strange twist, this mirrors Donald Rumsfeld's belief that too much American involvement in resolving crises and fixing problems limits the incentive of other states to do so. Drawing lessons from the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, Rumsfeld believed that if the United States minimized its role in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq, other nations would step up. Only when they did not was the United States forced to shoulder the burden. Whether because the international community learned from Iraq or because the Arab Spring was born within the Arab world rather than being imposed on it by the United States, Obama expects this to be a collective endeavor.
The flipside of this view is the second, implicit theme in Obama's speech, which is that if the United States embraces the Arab Spring too tightly and attempts to dominate it, the results would be negative, perhaps even disastrous. Better to tolerate some things that the United States might not prefer than to attempt top control the revolution.
For anyone who is not a foreign policy wonk here, the United States has been the implicit security provider for Europe since World War II. Many liberal hawks were likely propelled into neoconservatism not just by the fall of the Berlin wall but also by the lack of response by Europe to the crisis in the Balkans, making it seem after 9/11 that the United States was the only force available to respond to acts of crisis.
That's slowly beginning to shift and out of pure expediency, alot of rumblings that wonks had made about European security dependency are beginning to show in Obama's response to the Arab Spring. While left-wing anti-war dissidents may bemoan the fact that President Obama went from making anti-Iraq war speeches in 2003 to joining a coalition effort in 2011, Obama is making a pretty clear jump from the dominant actor of America's past to an actor in a coalition fueled by countries like France and the United Kingdom.