My column is a more considered assessment of the Cairo speech:
In many respects this was not a speech, as traditionally understood. It was an intervention.
The Middle East is addicted to its past; Obama spoke of the need to move into the future. The Middle East is fixated on conflict and identity; Obama emphasised quotidian common interests. The Middle East loves quibbles; Obama landed slap-bang in the middle of most of them and refused to budge. And driving all of it was a critical question of tone a measured, careful and stern message of respect and realism.
The obvious critique that this was just a set of words seems to me to miss the point. An intervention begins with words because it requires the actions of others. You don’t get an addict to go into recovery by cuffing him and throwing him into an ambulance. You talk to him and his family and speak calmly about what everyone in the room knows to be true but no one will face. So, for me, the core sentence of the speech was obvious: “It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.”
We all know that jihadism is not Islam; but we also know that jihadism is not alien to Islam and needs to be confronted, not engaged. We all know that the only solution to Israel/Palestine is a two-state partition; and we also know that Palestinian terrorism and Israeli settlements on occupied land need to be stopped. We all know that Iran has every right to peaceful nuclear energy; equally we know that Israel has every right to demand real and reliable assurances that such technology will not be directed at exterminating the Jewish state. For Obama to state this so plainly, so simply and so urgently as the first item of business in his foreign policy is a remarkable thing. He is doing with the Middle East what he did with America: if he explains it all clearly enough, maybe some actions will be taken.
(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.)