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Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with American service members in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2011 Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with American service members at al-Faw Palace at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 13, 2011 (AP photo by Maya Alleruzzo).

Could Biden Deliver on the Promise of a Better U.S. Middle East Policy?

Monday, Nov. 2, 2020

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week.

I watched Barack Obama win America’s presidency from Damascus. I still remember when the race was called, on whatever international news network was carried on satellite TV in Syria, sometime in the middle of the night. Seven months later, Obama traveled to Cairo, to give a major speech to the Arab world. Although its promise of a “new beginning” in America’s relations with the Middle East never really materialized, the address felt groundbreaking when it happened, coming after eight years of George W. Bush. It’s easy to overlook now, but the symbolism at the time was compelling. Here was an American president addressing the Arab world from Cairo University, rather than some fortified government compound, and speaking more honestly about America’s policies and mistakes, most of all the ongoing Iraq War, and the aspirations of people in the region. He even had some lines in Arabic. Governments—including Egypt’s, though Obama didn’t have to say so directly there on that stage in Cairo—had to maintain their power “through consent, not coercion.” ...

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