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.”
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.
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.”