One Year After Cairo, Evaluating Obama's Muslim Engagement

Has Obama met his goals for outreach?

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One year ago today, President Obama gave a landmark speech in Cairo, in which he spoke on behalf of the U.S. to the world's Muslims. It was heralded as an historic moment of outreach and the beginning of what many hoped would be a new day in closer and friendlier ties between the U.S. and world's Islamic nations and peoples. One year later, how is Obama doing in this mission? Here are some evaluations.

  • Successes Overshadowed by Flotilla Crisis  Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch and Kristin Lord write, "It is no accident that the anniversary of Obama's speech has gone virtually unremarked in the Arab media this week, except for a few comments about unmet promises and some juxtaposition of that glorious moment with America's anemic response to Gaza. If the Obama administration does not change its cautious approach quickly and forcefully address the blockade of Gaza which is the real heart of this week's scandal, it will confirm the crystallizing narrative of a President which either can not deliver on its promises or did not mean what he said. This would be a sad epitaph for the President's  carefully nurtured outreach to the Muslim world."
  • Little Progress and Key Failures  Time's Michael Crowley writes, "Obama has made precious little progress toward his goal of improving America's standing in the Muslim world. A new Gallup survey of several Muslim-majority nations finds that in Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Egypt and the Palestinian territories, America still has a dismally low standing." Why? "Obama has failed to deliver on some key promises he made in Cairo. Obama repeated his previously stated vow to close Guantanamo by the end of 2009. But that pledge is now five months overdue and counting, with little prospect of a solution in sight. The same goes for his ambitious talk of Middle East peace."
  • He Set Expectations Too High  Foreign Policy's Peter Mandaville warns, "there is the danger that a failure to produce tangible results on core political issues, such as peace between Israelis and Palestinians, will impede--and perhaps eventually overwhelm--progress on building broader partnerships. For many Muslims, talk of science envoys and youth engagement, while promising, is of a fundamentally different order of priority. This audience is looking for the 'new beginning' Obama announced in Cairo to reflect concrete changes in U.S. foreign policy."
  • No Forward Movement on Israel-Palestine  The United Arab Emirate National's Alan Philips writes, "In his speech in Cairo the US president Barack Obama spoke of “Palestine” as if it was about to be a country with a secure place on the map. He urged the Palestinians to achieve their goal of dignity and statehood through non-violent means. Most crucially, he declared that Israeli settlements on occupied land must stop. Looking back on that speech after the events of the past week underlines the gap between word and deed. For all his promises to rein in Israel and devote himself to achieving Palestinian statehood, the US has been almost the only country not to condemn the Israeli commando raid on the Free Gaza Movement flotilla."
  • Too Soft on Harsh Islamic Regimes  National Review's Michael Rubin writes, "On this, the one-year anniversary of Obama’s Cairo speech, the silence of the Obama administration in the face of backsliding on rights, freedom, and liberty in Kurdistan, Turkey, and Arab states such as Egypt and Yemen, is deafening. ... Obama’s inaction is dangerous because, when administration officials like assistant secretary of state Jeffrey Feltman or U.S. congressmen on a junket take their photos with Barzani, cynicism grows about perceived U.S. endorsement dictators; this in turn encourages anti-Americanism."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.