At the end of my last blog I wrote something to the effect that I would like to go back over any details of President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world to see if there was anything I might have missed or that I would disagree with and that I would be interested in world reaction.
After reading the official White House transcript, complete with notations of applause and someone blurting out “Barack Obama we love you!” and the president saying “thank you”, I concluded that I had indeed heard the speech in its entirety and I did not find anything particularly objectionable, save his promise to provide billions of dollars for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in even that I can accept the concept, just don’t see how we can afford it.
So, my plan here is to go down through the transcript, paragraph by paragraph, and make some comments. Before that, I note that as of this time it seems overall world reaction, particularly among the target audience, the Muslims, seems to have been quite receptive and quite good. And, as I expected, his biggest detractors were the American far right (you know, those folks who love to hate and love torture) and some Muslim extremists (you know, those folks who love to hate and love to torture).
And now the paragraph by paragraph analysis of the transcript of his speech:
The president greeted his audience at the Cario (Egypt) University and noted that for a thousand years it has been a “beacon of learning”, and he said he carried with him a greeting from Islamic communities in the U.S.: “Assalaamu alaykum” (Peace be upon you), to which he received enthusiastic applause.
Later on a talk show someone commented that it is good that he spoke at a university and there were a lot of young people in the audience, and it was said that it is a mis-perception that terrorists come out of only the poverty-stricken class. In fact, many, including the 9/11 terrorists, are highly educated.
And I realize now that commenting on each paragraph or each line is too tedious, but I am going to arrange my commentary in descending order of the transcript paragraphs.
He noted that there are great tensions between the Muslim world and the U.S. (And the whole Western world) and he acknowledged the role colonialism played in all of this and the fact that the best interests of the inhabitants were not looked after and that in the Cold War Muslim country’s were treated as proxies in the struggle between the West and the communist block nations (although he did not actually mention the communist nations or the former Soviet Union). But anyone who has any grasp of recent history knows that it was all about the competition between primarily the U.S. and the Soviet Union for influence in the Middle East and other areas of the world. The president also said that Islamic traditions were not always respected. And I think that the fact that President Obama recognized Islamic traditions and even used some Islamic phrases and quotations from the Koran is a major deal. You do not have to adopt someone’s religion to respect it. And this recognition, a show of respect, plays big in the Muslim world.
And the president said that he had come to Cairo to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world”. And that “new beginning” phrase I note was used in headlines around the world – pretty powerful stuff.
To show his sincerity, Obama noted that although he is a self-professed Christian, he has Islamic roots in his family and lived in a Muslim country (Indonesia) and heard the morning and evening prayer calls (he did not say, but I think it is correct that he attended a Muslim-run school for a time). He also said that he worked among Muslims in Chicago neighborhoods. I don’t know if he meant members of the “Black Muslim” sect or just Muslims in general. But it does demonstrate his unique ability to connect with Muslims. And it shows that he is an adept politician in that he downplayed (had to ) his Muslim roots and connections during his presidential campaign (does anyone think that in this day and age anyone who even hinted he might be a Muslim could be elected president of the U.S.?). I think it is a de facto requirement at present in the U.S. that one be a Christian or profess to be in order to get elected president (that might change some day – stranger things have happened, like the election of Obama).
He noted how the whole world is interconnected and thus has mutual interests. In the global economy all nations suffer at a downturn. Disease threatens all. Nuclear weapons threaten all.
And I’ll jump in here and note that just going chronologically doesn’t work here either. So I will jump to the fact that he said that Iran has a right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but that developing nuclear weapons, no. And that is the great irony we have come to and these are my words. The U.S. was the first to develop nuclear weapons and the only nation to ever use them. They are so terrible we are stuck with the quite necessary and difficult task of doing everything we can to make sure no one else who has not already got hold of nuclear weapons does.
President Obama assured his audience that the U.S. in not at war with Islam. I note here that even George W. Bush said the same (but the overall tone from his administration and those who so adamantly supported his policies made it seem otherwise).
In probably one of the most important parts of the speech as far as U.S. policy and justification for it, Obama made it clear that the U.S. was and is justified in going after Al Qaeda (and other extremists) in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the result of the 9/11. He noted with some force and even anguish in his voice that nearly 3,000 innocent people in the U.S. were killed on 9/11.
And then he turned around and said that on the other hand, while we felt compelled to invade Afghanistan (because the 9/11 extremists were based there), our government (then headed by Bush) chose to go into Iraq and that there was much controversy within the U.S. at the time over that. Obama, who had been on record as against the Iraq invasion, implied in his speech that the U.S. made a mistake in doing so and had learned a costly lesson. I think that he essentially admitted that the U.S. had over reached in its rightful authority in Iraq (and I realize that arguments could be made either way on all of this, but in the end, the Iraq invasion does seem to have been a blunder – and even if it all works out, that does not make it right).
The president also proclaimed that the U.S. seeks no permanent military presence in either Iraq or Afghanistan. And I think that is a major policy statement.
President Obama said that he has unequivocally made his position clear that the U.S. will no longer use torture (so I do not know what Dick Cheney meant when he claimed recently in his own defense that even Obama had reserved the right to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” — the right wing nut euphemism for torture). That is a powerful statement that hopefully puts the U.S. back on the high ground of humanity (if we become as ruthless as the terrorists, what do we have left worth saving?).
One part that bothered me was that he pledged several billions of dollars to build schools and hospitals and infrastructure and in economic support for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now probably that is a good idea in that folks with a better standard of living and a better standard thanks to us might be less inclined to become terrorists against us. But it also seems that we are being blackmailed here and there is a question in my mind: who needs this money more? folks over there or folks here at home? (Does not charity begin at home?) But that is the great quandary we always find ourselves in as the world superpower (and one wonders how long at this rate we can hold on to that claim).
And maybe the biggest thing president Obama proclaimed in U.S. foreign policy was his insistence on a two-state solution for the 61-years-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his insistence that Israel quit expanding its settlements into Palestinian territory. And I say, what other solution is there to all that and why have we not insisted on that all along?
He said he supported women’s rights and the right of women to education, which is significant in that conservative Muslims often deny such rights to women (but I note that conservative Christians in this country often put down the idea of women’s rights and seem to promote the idea that women must be subservient to men – it’s all biblical, you know).
President Obama also said that although the U.S. prefers democracy and the rule of law it would only promote its form of government rather than force it upon other nations. But I have to note that wouldn’t it be heck if after all of this that Iraq or Afghanistan, for instance, would wind up with hardline Islamic governments ruled by religious leaders without regard to human rights?
I probably missed some things to comment upon after all, but I’ve probably already gone on too long.
Personally, even though a cable news commentator said his speech contained no real policy statements, I think it was the strongest and most reasonable foreign policy speech I have ever heard from a U.S. president (and even though I was young at the time, my memory goes back to hearing Dwight David Eisenhower).