A second batch of bloggy commentary. Marc Lynch:
President Obama's speech today in Cairo met the bar he set for himself. In an address modeled after the Philadelphia speech on race, he forewent soaring oratory in favor of a thoughtful, nuanced and challenging reflection on America's relations with the Muslims around the world (not "the Muslim world", which for some reason became a major issue in American punditry over the last few days). As he frankly recognized, no one speech can overcome the many problems he addressed. But this speech is an essential starting point in a genuine conversation, a respectful dialogue on core issues. After the initial rush of instant commentaries and attempts to inflame controversy pass, it should become the foundation for a serious, ongoing conversation which could, as the President put it, "remake this world."
It's true that Obama didn't set the grand hall afire. Whether for cultural reasons, or the awkwardness of instant translation, applause was sporadic and muted. (His call to halt Israeli settlements, for instance, went strangely unnoticed.) But to see him unfold his biography, to cut such an unfamiliar profile on the world stage, is to appreciate how much America will benefit from presenting this new face to the world.
"No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust," Obama admitted today. And it remains to be seen how moved the Muslim world will be by his words. But even if Obama is saying many things that Bush has said before, he is decidedly not Bush. And for that reason, the world is listening. That's no small achievement, something which even Hillary Clinton, from her front-row seat, must have been able to appreciate.
Mission accomplished. For the first time in memory, an American President spoke to Muslims and Arabs not as antagonists who need to take certain actions before achieving US acceptance but as equals. Not only did the speech specifically reject western (and American) colonialism, its entire tone was the antithesis of colonial. This is a profoundly different American voice, one that will do much to advance American goals rather than to sabotage them.
During the campaign I had actually defended Obama against those who felt he would be a disaster for Israel. This speech makes me think that may have been a mistake. The only chance now is that this speech will be mere rhetoric, like so much in the Middle East, intended only for public consumption. But if Obama really means it, it is bad news for the Jews in Israel and America, not to mention for American national security.
The truest thing he said? "No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust." But he has committed himself to a set of principles and policies in front of the entire world. And if you think that "audience costs" (both domestic and foreign) matter, it will be hard for him to backtrack on the commitment to get out of Iraq on schedule, to leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible, to make significant changes in nuclear weapons policy, and to focus like a laser beam on the Middle East peace process. He's committed his administration in public, and that means he (and the country) will pay a bigger price if he doesn’t follow through. Now he needs to follow up words with deeds. And so do his listeners.
I realize that the Obama speech isn’t going to satisfy those (like me) who once thrilled to Bush’s unapologetic pro-democracy rhetoric but, for all of Obama’s rhetorical sleight of hands and elisions, I thought he did an effective job of making America’s case to the Muslim world. No question: He is a more effective salesman than his predecessor was. Which doesn’t mean that his audience will buy the message.
There will be plenty to pick at, I'm sure, but my first impression is that this is thoughtful, mostly non-controversial address that Americans of nearly all persuasions can be reasonably happy with.
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