Obama’s speech in Cairo

2009-06-05

in Bombs and rockets, Economics, Films and movies, Politics, Security

President Obama’s speech on the United States and the Muslim world, delivered in Cairo, is worth watching:

It covers the history of Islam, the United States, and the Muslim world. It also covers Afghanistan, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, nuclear proliferation, democracy, religious freedom, the rights of women, and economic development. Many translations are available. Climate change was not directly mentioned, despite its considerable importance for both Muslims and Americans.

At the very least, the speech demonstrates the change in tone between this administration and the last one. Whether it is the start of something more meaningful, time will tell. Slate has some commentary: relatively positive and more negative.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

. June 5, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Obama and the Muslims
Jun 5th, 2009 by MESH

Michele Dunne :: What President Obama had going for him in this speech was at least the appearance of frankness, laying on the table the areas of difference—terrorism (repackaged as “violent extremism”), Afghanistan, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nuclear proliferation, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights, economic development—and giving his view of each one. That approach, along with the requisite expressions of support for Islam as a religion and a civilization, will get him some points.

What the speech did not do was tell us anything much about how his administration will follow up on these issues. The list of deliverables was exceedingly short. The only firm promise was to a pursue a two-state solution to the Palestine issue—which will be extremely difficult to achieve. There were hints of a softer approach to Hamas (now it’s an organization with “support” and “responsibilities” instead of a terrorist group) and perhaps to Hezbollah (”we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments”), but it was unclear how serious that was and whether it would be sustainable in Washington.

Alison June 7, 2009 at 10:28 am

“… importance for both Muslims and Americans.”

The phrasing suggests you can be one but not the other, which is probably not what you meant.

Milan June 7, 2009 at 10:31 am

That’s not an exclusive ‘or.’

The speech may be doubly important for Muslim Americans.

Tristan June 7, 2009 at 11:18 am

Actions will speak louder. If the US continues to support regimes that commit atrocities, those of us not born under its ideological dominance will continue to bear hatred towards it.

Tristan June 7, 2009 at 11:25 am

“The only firm promise was to a pursue a two-state solution to the Palestine issue—which will be extremely difficult to achieve. ”

It’s pretty hilarious that people still believe this. A two state solution is only supported by something like 98% of the world’s governments, basically only the US and Israel and small insignificant nations vote against the rights of Palestinians to self-determination. Israel can only maintain its apartheid regime (incidentally – this world is commonly used in the Israeli press to describe the situation, only in the west is it taboo because we are not allowed to compare Israeli crimes to crimes we don’t approve of), by US support. Withdraw US support, and they will be forced to bow to the 30 year old world consensus on a two state solution of the 67 boarders with minor and mutual modifications.

Tristan June 7, 2009 at 12:49 pm

What people think of the re-branding of terrorism as violent extremism?

If Obama really wants to change the tone of US diplomacy, he needs to acknowledge that the U.S. has not itself never supported “violent extremism”. I.e. the unwavering support of the “tyranny” in Iraq during the period of the crimes against humanity for which the dictator was later executed.

Tristan June 7, 2009 at 12:59 pm

“It’s easy to point fingers”

Interesting that he doesn’t consider that one might point a finger at the United States as the prime blocker of a solution. How exactly was the US acceptance of Israel’s rejection of the roadmap, at the same time as Hamas was excluded from discussions because they rejected the roadmap.

“Palestinians must abandon violence”

No mention of the need for Israel or the US to abandon violence?

There are some significant statements, however. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of Israel settlements”. “Just as Palestine must recognize Israel’s right to exist, Israel must acknowledge the right of a Palestinian state to exist”.

Still, strange double speak. “Pursue progress, over a self defeating focus on the past”. So, when Palestinians focus on the past, its self defeating, but when Israel looks at the past, it justifies its existence?

. June 7, 2009 at 7:38 pm

New leaders face old problems in Mid-East

By Jeremy Bowen
Middle East editor, BBC News

When you are dealing with a conflict that has gone on for a very long time, it is wise not to infer too much from a single meeting between two men who are new to their jobs.

But new leaders usually have a better chance of changing things than they do after they have been bruised and battered by a few years in office, so it does not do to be too cynical either.

Tristan June 7, 2009 at 10:33 pm

The “old problem” is US rejection of the international consensus on a peace settlement. The “old problem” can be solved as fast as you can say “Oh wait, the Israeli lobby wasn’t as powerful as I thought…”

Alex June 8, 2009 at 10:31 am

Nice discourse. But what does it mean to address the Muslim world anyway. Can I expect Obama to also address the Christian world anytime soon? What about the Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Atheist world? I just find it strange how little the notion of a Muslim world is problematised.

Milan June 8, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Alex,

It’s true that the concept of a ‘Muslim world’ is problematic.

That being said, there is also a significant extent to which many Americans perceive such a world to be unified and hostile. This isn’t a perception that exists in relation to Christians, atheists, etc.

One of the better things in Obama’s speech is the way in which he attacks the notion of Islam being unified, hostile, or separate from the United States. By highlighting the linkages between US history and Islam, he lessens the extent to which the two seem to be competing camps.

. June 8, 2009 at 3:48 pm

The same near-masochistic insistence on taking the extreme as the norm was also present in Obama’s smoothly delivered speech in the Egyptian capital. Some of what he said was well-intentioned if ill-informed. The United States should not have overthrown the elected government of Iran in 1953, but when it did so, it used bribed mullahs and ayatollahs to whip up anti-Communist sentiment against a secular regime. The John Adams administration in the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli did indeed proclaim that the United States had no quarrel with Islam as such (and, even more important, that the United States itself was in no sense a Christian nation), but the treaty failed to stop the Barbary states from invoking the Quran as permission to kidnap and enslave travelers on the high seas, and thus Thomas Jefferson was later compelled to send a fleet and the Marines to put down the trade. One hopes that Obama does not prefer Adams to Jefferson in this regard.

Any person with the smallest pretense to cultural literacy knows that there is no such place or thing as “the Muslim world,” or, rather, that it consists of many places and many things. (It is precisely the aim of the jihadists to bring it all under one rulership preparatory to making Islam the world’s only religion.) But Obama said nothing about the schism between Sunni and Shiites, or about the argument over Sufism, or about Ahmadi and Ismaili forms of worship and practice. All this was conceded to the umma: the highly ideological notion that a person is first and foremost defined by their adherence to a religion and that all concepts of citizenship and rights take second place to this theocratic diktat. Nothing could be more reactionary.

. June 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm

West Bank Settlements and the Future of U.S.-Israeli Relations
June 8, 2009

Amid the rhetoric of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech June 4 in Cairo, there was one substantial indication of change, not in the U.S. relationship to the Islamic world but in the U.S. relationship to Israel. This shift actually emerged prior to the speech, and the speech merely touched on it. But it is not a minor change and it must not be underestimated. It has every opportunity of growing into a major breach between Israel and the United States.
The immediate issue concerns Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The United States has long expressed opposition to increasing settlements but has not moved much beyond rhetoric. Certainly the continued expansion and development of new settlements on the West Bank did not cause prior administrations to shift their policies toward Israel. And while the Israelis have occasionally modified their policies, they have continued to build settlements. The basic understanding between the two sides has been that the United States would oppose settlements formally but that this would not evolve into a fundamental disagreement.

The United States has clearly decided to change the game. Obama has said that, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to stop building new settlements, but not to halt what he called the “natural growth” of existing settlements.

Obama has positioned the settlement issue in such a way that it would be difficult for him to back down. He has repeated it several times, including in his speech to the Islamic world. It is an issue on which he is simply following the formal positions of prior administrations. It is an issue on which prior Israeli governments made commitments. What Obama has done is restated formal U.S. policy, on which there are prior Israeli agreements, and demanded Israeli compliance. Given his initiative in the Islamic world, Obama, having elevated the issue to this level, is going to have problems backing off.

Tristan June 8, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Will Obama demand Israel comply by the roadmap? That would be a serious change in tone.

Milan June 8, 2009 at 8:28 pm

You might find the whole STRATFOR piece that is linked above interesting.

Their analysis is consistently different from that in other news sources.

Tristan June 8, 2009 at 8:47 pm

From that article it seems like a serious intelligence source. Are they reputable?

Milan June 8, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I find them interesting, but I certainly wouldn’t assume their analysis is correct.

They try hard to make people think they are much better than other sources of information, but I think they are most valuable as a differing opinion that encourages thought.

. June 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm

The United States and Islam
Let nations speak peace

Jun 4th 2009
From The Economist print edition
After the chill of the Bush era, ties between America and Islam can only get better—but how much better?

IT IS three years since Senator Barack Obama pronounced that America “is no longer a Christian nation—at least, not just.” The words sounded harsher than he intended: he meant to make the point in a more positive way, stressing that the United States was as much a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or non-believing polity as a Christian one. In Turkey in April the president seemed to turn the formula on its head, declaring that “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation” but “a nation of citizens” bound by values.

. August 14, 2009 at 12:08 am

“It is also worth remembering that the George W. Bush administration went a bit beyond words in objecting to illegal Israeli settlement projects, namely, by withholding U.S. economic support for them. In contrast, Obama administration officials stated that such measures are “not under discussion,” and that any pressures on Israel to conform to the Road Map will be “largely symbolic,” the New York Times reported (Helene Cooper, June 1).”

http://www.alternet.org/world/140462/chomsky:_what_obama_didn%27t_say_in_his_cairo_address_speaks_volumes_about_his_mideast_policy/

. February 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm

When allies tumble
The Obama administration comes off the fence, but the future looks grim

AUTHORITY forgets a dying king. So said Tennyson. America, on the other hand, was in no rush at the start of the fast-moving changes in Egypt to give up on Hosni Mubarak. Soon after the demonstrations began, Vice-President Joe Biden called Mr Mubarak an ally and Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, said his government was “stable”. Not until the game looked almost up for Egypt’s president did the Obama administration begin to call for an “orderly transition”. And not until the evening of February 1st did Barack Obama himself declare, after a phone call to Mr Mubarak, that the transition “must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”

The American reluctance to move faster was not—or at least not only—a case of dithering. As the Mubarak regime’s patron and armourer, the Americans have had a tricky balance to strike. They could not be seen to abandon a longstanding ally at the first whiff of tear-gas. That would scare other loyal Arab allies, such as the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and risk ruining relations with Egypt if Mr Mubarak were somehow to hang on. Nor, though, could Mr Obama be seen to take the dictator’s side against the people. That would offend American principles and hurt relations with a successor regime if the people prevailed. Hence the public fence-sitting: Mr Mubarak is our ally, but we deplore violence and are on the side of “reform”, was the official State Department line as the demonstrators thronged Cairo.

Mr Obama has also been careful to say, in public at least, that Egypt’s future is for Egypt, not America, to decide. Yet the Americans wield influence over a regime that depends on them for $1.5 billion a year of aid and almost all its modern weaponry. It is safe to assume that the main job of Frank Wisner, the former ambassador Mr Obama sent to talk to Mr Mubarak, was to give the Egyptian president his marching orders. As to who comes next, the Americans know and like Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief now appointed vice-president. He has been the chief behind-the-scenes emissary between Egypt and Israel. But here, too, America has watched its words, since an overt endorsement might be used to paint Mr Suleiman as an American puppet.

. March 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm

In fact Mr Obama himself appears to have decided early on that events had slipped beyond Hosni Mubarak’s control, let alone America’s. On January 28th he gatecrashed a meeting in the situation room, shunted Tom Donilon, his national security adviser, out of the chair, and took charge himself. The next day Mr Donilon drafted a ten-point memo summarising the president’s view that the status quo in Egypt was untenable and that political change was inevitable. Mr Obama is said to have been more certain in private that Mr Mubarak’s jig was up than America’s public pronouncements (especially those of Hillary Clinton, his sometimes behind-message secretary of state) let on. He flatly rejected the Israelis’ analysis that the Egyptian president could hang on and that America should do everything to help him. Mr Obama’s conversation with Mr Mubarak on the evening of February 1st is said to have been the toughest between an American president and an ally since Ronald Reagan’s scolding of Menachem Begin during Israel’s bombing of Beirut in August 1982.

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