President Obama is expected to address the nation on Thursday to discuss the unprecedented changes that are sweeping the Middle East. The rising up of Arab citizens has rebuffed Osama bin Laden's message of extremism and violence - but also swept away many of the familiar underpinnings of U.S. influence in the region. In this new environment, the U.S. faces three sets of challenges: realigning our interests and values; offering practical assistance, not cookie-cutter solutions, to the problems at hand; and remaining focused, even in changed circumstances, on the core challenges of Middle East peace, terrorism, building new partnerships with new powers and dealing with Iran. Our most valuable tools are civilian - technology, private sector and personal ties, renewed diplomacy and above all showing by our example that we are ready to partner with those who are willing to partner with us.
While news of Osama bin Laden's death has dominated the American conversation, the turbulence across the Middle East and North Africa continues. In Libya, rebels have gained ground while NATO forces step up the bombing of Tripoli. The expanding crackdown in Syria has claimed more than 750 lives, while Bahrain has lifted its state of emergency but retained the presence of foreign troops. And Egypt continues to investigate and try members of the Mubarak regime, as sectarian divides are reemerging. As the Arab Spring continues, each of these countries presents notably different scenarios, and U.S. policy must respond fluidly to balance core values and its interests, avoiding grandiose rhetoric and cookie cutter approaches.
In the aftermath of last year's Cheonan attack and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, relations with North Korea have continued to languish. Despite economic hardships, food shortages and an internal power shift, North Korea continues to defy international norms and expand its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. A clear-eyed assessment of both the situation and of North Korea's security concerns is essential to crafting any U.S. policy going forward - and this requires dialogue. Former President Jimmy Carter's unofficial trip to North Korea is a starting point, but real talks remain the best option. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), points out, "We don't know what renewed diplomatic engagement can accomplish. We do know this: Our silence invites a dangerous situation to get worse."