Obama’s Cairo Speech

As he promised during his election campaign today President Obama addressed the Muslim world on behalf of the United States in Cairo:

CAIRO, June 4 –President Obama asked Thursday for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” in a speech that urged Islamic nations to embrace democracy, women’s rights, religious tolerance and the right of Israel to co-exist with an independent Palestinian state.

In an address designed to change perceptions of the United States in the Arab Middle East and beyond, Obama reviewed the troubled historical legacy between Islam and the rest of the world, from colonialism through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the uncertainty surrounding cultural and economic globalization.

“So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity,” Obama told an audience of hundreds gathered in a domed hall at Cairo University. “This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.”

The prepared text of the speech is here.

I think the speech was a good one; it is classic Obama in the sense that it is an aspirational, lofty speech that draws on his family history and early experiences. It is, as you might expect, being met with mixed reactions. Emphasizing President Obama’s exhortation to the Israelis to end the expansion of settlements while glossing over his matching exhortation to the Palestinians to end violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist, Al Jazeera reports:

Immediately after the wide-ranging speech, Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said it helped undo “the harm done by the Bush administration.”

“[The speech] was about willingness to engage in soft power while keeping the military option alive,” Marwan said.

“It was a soft imperial speech that wanted to engage … restore justice to the world and restore America’s reputation.

“It reminded America of its new duties, of democracy, freedom… without, at the same time, discounting the use of military power.”

A spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, described Obama’s speech as a “good start”.

“His call for stopping settlement and for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and his reference to the suffering of Palestinians … is a clear message to Israel that a just peace is built on the foundations of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” Nabil Abu Rdainah said.

Some Israelis are responding harshly:

Settler leaders reacted with frustration in the wake of U.S. President Obama’s speech in Cairo on Thursday, Israel Radio reported.

“Today, the State of Israel is paying the price of its leaders’ defeatism,” Yesha Council said in a statement. “Hussein Obama gave priority to Arab lies, which have always been told with determination and daring, at the expense of the Jewish truth, which has been said in a weak and unconfident voice.”

The Iranians are reacting to the speech in their customary conciliatory manner:

Highlighting the hostility the U.S. leader faces from some quarters, the supreme leader of Washington’s regional arch foe, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an address America was “deeply hated” and only action, not “slogans,” could change that.

Right now I’m rather pressed for time. There is a lot to unpack in the speech and I’m working on an annotated version of it which I hope to post later in the day.

UPDATE (James Joyner):  I’ve done my initial take on Obama’s Cairo speech over at New Atlanticist.  The bottom line: “nice speeches can be helpful but they are no substitute for policy.”

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Furhead says:

    In response to those that think Obama doesn’t defend America’s values enough, or doesn’t acknowledge the threats to Israel, etc., Steve Benen has compiled a fairly nice list from the speech:

    The Challenge

  2. Tlaloc says:

    Highlighting the hostility the U.S. leader faces from some quarters, the supreme leader of Washington’s regional arch foe, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an address America was “deeply hated” and only action, not “slogans,” could change that.

    If that’s all they said it really isn’t that hostile. It’s an observation, and one that probably has a lot of truth to it.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    I think the Supreme Leader’s speech makes it clear that the “action” the United States needs to take is to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq.

  4. davod says:

    It is not what he says but the emphasis that matters.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    Obama’s speech provides such a target rich environment, I’ve taken but a few points and broken them down.

  6. Eric Florack says:

    Oh… I should also say I’ve got a vid of the speech up at that link if you’re interested.

  7. Tano says:

    The speech seems to be drawing criticism from the perfect mix of suspects – the nut job extremists on all sides. Seems to have been a home run.

  8. Drew says:

    “The bottom line: “nice speeches can be helpful but they are no substitute for policy.””

    Wiser words have never been spoken.

  9. When all you’ve got are nice speeches every problem looks like a campaign stop.

  10. Michael says:

    The bottom line: “nice speeches can be helpful but they are no substitute for policy.”

    That’s pretty much what Ayatollah Khomeini said.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    The Supreme Leader also said that Israel is a cancerous tumor on the @$$ of humanity that needs to be lanced. You can’t say the guy doesn’t have a head for policy.

  12. To paraphrase Chevy Chase, Ayotollah Khomeini is still dead. I assume you meant Ayatollah Khameini.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Speaking of a target rich environment:

    Look, gang, you keep mouthing platitudes about how Iran doesn’t have the ability. In a conventional sense, that’s true. But since when has Arab extremism been limited to a conventional fight?

    Posted by Bithead | April 12, 2008 | 10:50 am

    Bit why don’t you get back to about the middle east when you figure our who lives in what country? Maybe you can find someone who finished high school to explain it to you.

  14. Michael says:

    To paraphrase Chevy Chase, Ayotollah Khomeini is still dead. I assume you meant Ayatollah Khameini.

    Yes, I always make this mistake. I still can’t spell Ahmadinejad without looking it up.

  15. Michael says:

    Speaking of a target rich environment:

    You had to go back 2 months to find something to complain about?

  16. anjin-san says:

    You had to go back 2 months to find something to complain about?

    Nahh, its just that that one is really a classic 🙂 Maybe chuckels can get Lieberman to whisper in his ear when he makes a factual error. That would keep ‘ol Joe busy pretty much until the end of time.

  17. Michael says:

    Nahh, its just that that one is really a classic 🙂 Maybe chuckels can get Lieberman to whisper in his ear when he makes a factual error.

    Hey, I mistook Khameini for Komeini just a few minutes ago, are you going to throw that back at me every couple of months too?

  18. anjin-san says:

    Hey, I mistook Khameini for Komeini just a few minutes ago, are you going to throw that back at me every couple of months too?

    Hey, we all make mistakes. But a guy like bit, who actually revels in his own ignorance, well, sometimes I just can’s resist the urge to tee him up and smack him down the ‘ol fairway…

  19. Drew says:

    “It is not what he says but the emphasis that matters.”

    Must be a staff job guy……..

  20. The Strategic MC says:

    On balance, and within the context of what he was attempting to achieve, this was a pretty good speech. I believe that the section on democracy was not only the most relevant, but also the hardest hitting and least well received.

    OTOH, his discussions of religious tolerance and the rights of women could have been stronger.

    I was only concerned by the following two paragraphs, both of which were delivered in sequence:

    Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald…where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death… Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

    On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

    To compare the Holocaust with Al Nakba is troubling and, on many levels, represents a false moral equivalence. Edward Said would have approved.

  21. anjin-san says:

    Pretty good analysis MC…

  22. Michael says:

    To compare the Holocaust with Al Nakba is troubling and, on many levels, represents a false moral equivalence.

    That is true, but nowhere in the quote you used was a comparison made.

  23. PD Shaw says:

    Heh, you say tomaTOW, I say tomaTAH, you say Khomeini, I say Khameini.

    No mistake; the dead hand still rules the living.

  24. The Strategic MC says:

    “That is true, but nowhere in the quote you used was a comparison made.”

    The sequential delivery of the two paragraphs was not inadvertent. Obama juxtaposes the disasters that have befallen both the Jews and the Palestinians.

    You don’t see a comparison; I do.

  25. The bottom line: “nice speeches can be helpful but they are no substitute for policy.”

    Amir Taheri says, “A speech is no substitute for policy.”

    Great minds and all that.

  26. Eric Florack says:

    Anjin, here’s anews flash: disagreement with Anjin does not denote ignorance. Rather, the opposite. Your finding problems with something that anyone says is usually among the best indications possible that they’re correct.

  27. anjin-san says:

    Anjin, here’s anews flash: disagreement with Anjin does not denote ignorance

    Of course not. But your saying that Iran is an Arab nation does. Iran is Persian. About 1% if its population speaks Arabic. If you are going to advocate war with a country, it behooves you to at least know who lives there. Do some research on Parthia, and work your way from there…

  28. steve says:

    Decent speech. Given the complexity of ME/Islamic history, it was probably about as good as one could expect while keeping toa 45 minute schedule.

    Yes, it is obvious that follow up policy is what is really important. However, I think one needs to arrange the setting so that it is possible to succeed. What endeavor, economic, political, educational, starts without planning and stated goals? An important part of this speech was expressing respect for Muslim/Arab peoples. Reading American press the last 8 years, a Muslim could come away thinking that we regard all Muslims as terrorists, as a monolith that is out to destroy us. Few Americans think of Iran as anything other than evil.

    This is a sign, I hope, of commitment to a real change in strategy in the Arab world.

    Steve

  29. anjin-san says:

    Few Americans think of Iran as anything other than evil

    Sad, but true. We need to keep in mind that the current government/theocracy in Iran is the end result of a chain of events that we helped initiate by overthrowing a democratically elected government there.

  30. PD Shaw says:

    we helped initiate by overthrowing a democratically elected government there

    Certainly, a lie that I hope people don’t keep in mind. We didn’t overthrow. It wasn’t a democracy. And the ’79 revolution was primarily caused by local circumstances.

  31. anjin-san says:

    Certainly, a lie that I hope people don’t keep in mind. We didn’t overthrow.

    Put up or shut up:

    http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB126/index.htm

  32. PD Shaw says:

    In July of 1953, Musaddiq dissolved the parlaimant, something he had no authority to do under the Iranian Constitution. He had become a dictator. Americans didn’t do that.

    In August of 1953, the shah dismissed Musaddiq, and appointed a new prime minister, something which was authorized by the constitution. The new prime minister, Zahedi, rallied the Iranian army to his support.

    I don’t dispute the notion that the CIA or MI5 were operating in Iran. I dispute the notion of any causal agency. There was real domostic unrest and Musaddiq had alienated many of his former supporters with purges, use of emergency powers and refusals to compromise.

    And ’79? Give me a break. The Shah made his own enemies over the years. And successes. The two decades of tremendous economic growth fueled the rise of middle class aspirations to political change.

  33. davod says:

    “Put up or shut up:”

    Foreign Policy Immaculately Conceived By Adam Garfinkle – Hindsight is not necessarily 20/20

    I recommend reading the complete section on Iran as the small portion included below does not cover the complexities of the situation.

    “The immaculate conception theory of U.S. foreign policy operates from three central premises. The first is that foreign policy decisions always involve one and only one major interest or principle at a time. The second is that it is always possible to know the direct and peripheral impact of crisis-driven decisions several months or years into the future. The third is that U.S. foreign policy decisions are always taken with all principals in agreement and are implemented down the line as those principals intend — in short, they are logically coherent.”

    “…Immaculate conception theorists hold that once the shah was restored, his repressive misrule made the Ayatollah Khomeini inevitable. Not only is the shah’s repression distorted and exaggerated in their telling of it, but it was the bungling of the Carter administration that allowed the clerics to seize power. Illustrating the difference between an ignoramus and a fool, some of that administration’s cabinet members not merely believed — they actually said it publicly — that Ayatollah Khomeini was a “saint” who would soon retire from politics. Worse, the administration actively dissuaded the Iranian military, via the infamous Huyser mission among other modalities, from preventing the mullahs from taking power. Supporting the shah was good policy. Failure to adjust when the shah’s touch slipped was unfortunate but not fatal. The mismanagement of the endgame was disastrous, but it was also entirely avoidable.”

    “As serious students of modernization know (alas, that leaves out almost all write-from-the-hip journalists), land reform is absolutely essential to economic and eventually political modernization; by almost any standard the shah’s efforts in this regard were impressive. Iranian modernization as directed from the Peacock throne probably went farther and was more sustainable than any that Mossadegh and his disputatious colleagues and successors could have achieved. Indeed, had Iran come under a form of even limited neo-imperial Soviet influence like that from which Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Syria, and other countries have so much suffered, its “reforms” might have actually been retrogressive.”

    “More than that, though the immaculate conceptionists tend not to know it, the shah granted the vote to women in 1964. It was this act that first galvanized clerical opposition to the regime and was the catalyst for the first occasion upon which Ruhollah Khomeini went out and got himself arrested. We know how the story turned sad in 1978, but the success of the shah’s reforms went so deep in Iranian society that the rule of the Islamic Republic will, in the end, not stick. Perhaps the best illustration of this is that the mullahs have not dared suggest that the vote be taken away from women, though this is precisely what their theology would mandate.”

  34. davod says:

    “I don’t dispute the notion that the CIA or MI5 were operating in Iran. I dispute the notion of any causal agency.”

    A non-fiction book on MI6 discusses the 1953 coup, saying the Brits and USA were involved in the coup. The book goes so far as to say that the CIA wanted to back out at the last minute but the Brits refused to broadcast the recall messages.

  35. davod says:

    What makes the Muslim world so special that the President of the USA had to travel half way round the world to give a speech?

    Hinduism – 4000 to 2500 BCE
    Judaism – 2000 BCE
    Zoroastrianism – 1000 BCE
    Buddhism – 560 to 490 BCE
    Shinto – 500+ BCE
    Confucianism – 500 BCE
    Jainism – 420 BCE
    Taoism – 440 CE
    Christianity – 30+ CE
    Islam – 622 CE
    Sikhism – 1500 CE
    Bahá’í – 1863 CE

  36. Michael says:

    What makes the Muslim world so special that the President of the USA had to travel half way round the world to give a speech?

    Christianity – 1.637 billion – 1.923 billion
    Islam – 1.450 billion – 1.514 billion
    Buddhism – 489 million – 1.512 billion
    Hinduism – 965 million – 971 million
    Judaism – 14 million

    That’s why.

  37. davod says:

    The Buddhists (especially those in Thailand getting their heads chopped off)are waiting….

  38. Eric Florack says:

    Hmmm.
    Shaw’s got this one.

  39. Eric Florack says:

    But your saying that Iran is an Arab nation does

    So, does that mean you’re going to be jumping into this thread then, andtake James to task for the same thing? You’re a poor argument looking for an excuse to exist, Anjin.

  40. anjin-san says:

    .Immaculate conception theorists hold that once the shah was restored, his repressive misrule made the Ayatollah Khomeini inevitable.

    That would be inaccurate, in some ways, it was the Shah’s liberal policies that led to his downfall. Does not change the fact that our meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state and use of them as a proxy made a large contribution to the mess today.

  41. Michael says:

    The Buddhists (especially those in Thailand getting their heads chopped off)are waiting….

    Wait, what? What does that have to do with anything?

  42. anjin-san says:

    So, does that mean you’re going to be jumping into this thread then, andtake James to task for the same thing?

    Show me where James says that Iran is an Arab state. Bit, why not just man up and take responsibilty for your own remarks? Do some research, study some history, and come back when you are informed. I suggest adding “Cyrus the Great” to your Google list.

  43. Eric Florack says:

    Show me where James says that Iran is an Arab state

    I would suggest actually reading it.

    Note that even at the link James cites, the responses all speak about Arab states, even though the speech is also directed at Iran, indeed having an entire section on the topic.

    The trouble here, is that you refuse to acknowledge is the idea that the word ‘arab’ tends to be applied, (Perhaps unfairly) to the entire region as a catch all.

    Again, you’re simply looking for a point to stick the pry bar… and it ain’t working for you. Why not just own up to the idea? Is your position so thin you need to stand on this kind of nonsense?

  44. anjin-san says:

    That’s fine bit. Hide behind James. Clearly, you need a place to hide, and perhaps David is not available at the moment.

  45. An Interested Party says:

    The bottom line with Iran is that the overthrow of Mosaddeq led to the Shah taking power and his corrupt and despotic regime (remember SAVAK?) led to Khomeini and the religious fanatics taking over…now, I have no sympathy for the mullahs in Tehran…but when Iranians make the complaint that we toppled their government in 1953 and paved the way for the Shah, they make a valid point…is it so terribly hard to understand why they would mistrust us?