Previewing Obama’s speech on the Middle East and North Africa at 11:40 am ET… Change cannot happen overnight, but sometimes it occurs faster than anyone might think… The speech will likely have three planks: 1) an economic carrot for nations undergoing democratic transition, 2) a discussion of the Syrias and Saudi Arabias who aren’t undergoing transition, and 3) the tricky Middle East peace process… When in trouble on the 2012 trail, blame the media… Huntsman heads to NH… Dem group hearts Daniels on health care… DNC puts out video on the right’s new litmus test (Ryan’s budget plan)… And Coburn speaks.
*** Now this is change: When President Obama delivered his major foreign-policy address in Cairo in June 2009 (on the Middle East and the Muslim world), he mentioned something he's said many times before: "Change cannot happen overnight." But it sometimes happens faster than anyone might think. Nearly two years since that speech, Egypt's Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali are gone in the wake of the Arab Spring; civil war -- aided by the U.S. and NATO -- rages on in Libya; Syria has violently squashed popular protests; and Osama bin Laden is dead. Of course, other topics that Obama discussed in that Cairo speech haven't changed. Guantanamo Bay hasn't closed, as the president promised. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from over. And the war in Afghanistan continues even after bin Laden's death. But what the president called for in that speech was a new beginning. “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.”
*** The economic carrot: At 11:40 am ET from the U.S. State Department, Obama delivers another speech -- billed by some as “Cairo II” -- on what comes next after this new beginning. Per senior administration officials, the presidential will announce economic aid to Egypt, Tunisia, and other Middle Eastern/North African nations in transition. “One of the most important areas for us to focus on is supporting positive economic growth that … can incentivize and reinforce those countries that are transitioning to democracy,” an administration official said on a conference call.” Interestingly enough, this economic aid is modeled after what the U.S. did in Central and Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union fell.
*** On the Syrias and Saudi Arabias: In addition to economic aid, another part of Obama’s speech will concern the nations that are not transitioning to democracy -- from the Syrias (which are squashing the popular protests) to the Saudi Arabias (which appear to be dragging their feet). Strikingly, one of the messages that Obama will deliver here is what he said in Cairo in ’09: Change doesn’t happen overnight. Yet here is also what the president said in that speech two years ago: “You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion. You must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise. You must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.”
*** On Middle East peace: A final plank of Obama’s speech, of course, will involve the Middle East peace process, especially with the president’s meeting tomorrow with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. From what we can tell, Obama will outline PRINCIPLES but not SPECIFICS or a TIMELINE for Middle East peace. As the Washington Post writes, “A more general statement would mark a victory for national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon and Vice President Biden, who have long professional histories with Middle East adviser Dennis B. Ross, a veteran of the Clinton administration’s peace efforts. Ross favors giving Israel more time to assess the region’s changing politics before adding new pressure to return to negotiations.” Here’s a reality: There is no incentive for either the Israelis or the Palestinians to cut a deal right now; Look at the instability in the countries that border Israel, and ask yourself if there would be domestic political will to cut a deal. Long term, it looks like it makes sense from the standpoint of the U.S. and Europe. But the peace process is not a global issue for the Israeli political system; it's local.
*** When in trouble, blame the media: Turning to the 2012 election… The excuse of last resort is always media bias. And that is precisely what Team Newt alleged yesterday after an incredibly rough last 72 hours. Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler fired off this bizarre statement to Huffington Post: “The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world… They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles.” But here’s a simple truth: The media that Team Newt needs to blame isn’t the so-called MSM; rather it’s the conservative echo chamber (Limbaugh, Krauthammer, FOX). Irony of ironies? The man who is perhaps the leading media critic on conservative circles, Brent Bozell, isn't exactly taking it easy on Newt in this column.
*** Focusing on Huntsman: Gingrich, by the way, makes five stops in Iowa today (Waterloo, Marshalltown, Ames, Carroll, and Atlantic). And the other major activity on the early 2012 campaign trail today comes from Jon Huntsman, who begins his debut trip to New Hampshire with an event in Hanover, NH. Politico previews Huntsman’s five-day swing through the Granite State. “[F]ive months after floating himself as a potential presidential candidate -- and several weeks after leaving his post in Beijing -- Huntsman remains a political cipher. He has scarcely spoken in public, delivering a single commencement speech and giving an extended interview to just one publication.” A Huntsman spokesman tells First Read that the former governor and ambassador will focus on getting the country’s fiscal house in order. “He knows how to do it: Utah was rated best managed, best state for business, best for tax policy,” the spokesman says. “They weathered recession growing jobs and maintaining a rainy day fund.”
*** Dems heart Daniels on health care? The other 2012 activity today comes from Mitch Daniels, who spoke this morning before the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce breakfast in South Bend, IN. Speaking of Daniels, the Democratic-leaning group Protect Your Care -- which focuses on health care -- is highlighting how Daniels’ Indiana is implementing the health-care law and is accepting federal funds under the law. “Daniels’ assistance in implementing the Affordable Care Act is especially welcome when contrasted with the actions of Governors Perry, Scott and Jindal to block it at behest of the Tea Party,” said Protect Your Care spokesman Eddie Vale. Here’s more evidence – beyond Romney -- how Democrats are hoping to create friction in the GOP primary on health care.
*** More on the right’s new litmus test: As we wrote on Tuesday, the Ryan budget’s overhaul of Medicare has become the ultimate conservative litmus test. And after the flak Gingrich has received for opposing the Medicare overhaul -- and then apologizing for that opposition -- the DNC has released a video today seizing on this litmus test. Says a DNC spokesperson: “If there’s one lesson we learned from the ferocity with which Republicans attacked their supposed ‘ideas man’ and the speed with which he caved, it’s that dismantling Medicare is the new litmus test for any would-be Republican presidential nominee.”
*** Coburn speaks: Turning to Capitol Hill, Sen. Tom Coburn pens a Washington Post op-ed to explain (in part) why he walked away from the “Gang of Six” working on deficit reduction. “It is not realistic to expect six members to pull the Senate out of its dysfunction and lethargy. Some will ask why we should have more hope in an open, deliberative process, in which all senators are engaged, when a dedicated few did not succeed. The America I know comes together when tough times call for us to do so. It’s time for the Senate to earn its reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body and help lead that effort.” But this is worth noting: Coburn’s op-ed does NOT pledge against any tax hikes; in fact, his praise of the Bowles-Simpson recommendations probably won’t make Grover Norquist happy.
Countdown to NY-26 special election: 5 days
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Countdown to Election Day 2011: 173 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 263 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up