President Obama to Address Arab Spring, ‘Turn the Page’ on Policy in Region

BY David Chalian  May 19, 2011 at 8:39 AM EST

President Obama; photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama speaks at a DNC fund-raiser in Boston on Wednesday. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

As is the case with any major presidential address, there are always multiple audiences. When President Obama steps to the microphone at the State Department at 11:40 a.m. EDT, he’ll be speaking to Arab leaders (those resisting change and those living next door to those resisting change), the Arab street, Israelis, members of Congress and, of course, the American public.

You’ll likely be able to hear tailored messages to each of those critical audiences at various points in the speech.

President Obama takes the stage as protesters demanding change across the Arab world appear to have stalled in their mission, as the conflict in Libya remains in a stalemate and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process seems moribund.

While the White House is downplaying expectations that one speech from the president will spark any of those efforts to a desired resolution, there’s little doubt that the speech is intended to nudge.


“This comes at a moment of opportunity in the region and for U.S. policy in the region,” a senior administration official said on a conference call with reporters. “We’re obviously coming off of a decade of great tension and division across the region, and now, having wound down the Iraq war and continuing to do so, and having taken out Osama bin Laden, we are beginning to turn the page to a more positive and hopeful future for U.S. policy in the region.”

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expected to meet with President Obama Friday, the New York Times looks at the Middle East peace process as one likely focal point of the speech.

And on the heels of new sanctions against Syria, all ears will be attuned to the president’s language to hear if President Bashar al-Assad is given similar treatment as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi were given a couple of months ago.

President Obama’s aides will tell you that he can’t be a full-time presidential candidate because he has to be a full-time president and that he always has to do the proverbial gum-chewing walk.

But it’ll be interesting to note the diminishing number of times he returns to world-view speeches like this one over the next 17 months.

HUNTSMAN TO NEW HAMPSHIRE

On paper, at least, they seem like a perfect Republican primary match.

There’s Jon Huntsman, the moderate former Utah governor, with his history of bucking his party on issues such as climate change and gay rights.

And then there’s New Hampshire, home to the country’s first primary, where independent voters get to play, giving more centrist candidates an opportunity they may find elusive in Iowa.

Beginning Thursday, Huntsman will embark on a five-day, 12-stop tour of the Granite State that could go a long way toward revealing just how compatible the two really are.

Huntsman’s first stop will be an evening meet-and-greet at a restaurant in Hanover. His itinerary also includes speeches at house parties, VFW posts and GOP meetings, plus the requisite photo-op at Riley’s Gun Shop in Hooksett.

As he did in South Carolina earlier this month, Huntsman will also deliver a commencement address Saturday, this time to students at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.

With religious conservatives traditionally having a big say in the outcome of the Iowa caucuses, it would make sense for Huntsman to look to New Hampshire to help launch his campaign.

Huntsman has spent the past two years away from domestic politics, serving as the Obama administration’s ambassador to China. That stint abroad plus his Utah roots add up to a low national profile. A recent Gallup survey found that he’s recognized by only 25 percent of Republicans.

But as we’ve mentioned in this space many times, the Republican field is still very much unsettled, with poll after poll highlighting the fact that GOP voters don’t appear thrilled with the current crop of candidates.

The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson reports Thursday on Huntsman’s likely approach to the GOP nominating fight:

“Huntsman’s path through the primaries would probably be this: Leave the social conservatives to Rick Santorum and Michele Bach­mann, should they run, and instead focus heavily on Chamber of Commerce Republicans, Democrats and independents in the early states with open primaries.

“The main obstacle on that route would be Mitt Romney, a longtime Huntsman rival, who has a strong head start in New Hampshire and is eyeing a similar coalition.”

So, the task for Huntsman is winning two primaries.

He’ll have to take on Romney in the establishment primary, which could also include Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is expected to make a decision about running soon.

At the same time, Huntsman will need to convince Republican voters that “electability” is more important than meeting some ideological purity standard.

MAKING A DENT

The Republican National Committee raised $6 million in April and used some of that pay off $1 million of its debt.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will still be spending much of his year raising funds to climb out of the hole Michael Steele left behind.

The committee ended April with $5 million in cash on hand and $19 million in outstanding debt.

On Friday, we’ll see the DNC’s fund-raising numbers for April, which included some stepped up activity from President Obama after he announced his re-election campaign in the first half of the month.

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