Pete, your cogent take on the Cairo speech gets to one of its central problems and to Obama’s foreign policy more generally. You write that “it was, in some important respects, a misleading address, and therefore a regrettable one. The things Obama will win from the speech will be, I think, ephemeral; the distortions of history and reality, more enduring.”
One has to ask: why all the lies and mistelling of history? Why leave out such critical facts as the sixty year refusal by Palestinians to accept Israel’s existence and their rejection of multiple offers of statehood? The president is an educated man so it is not out of ignorance that he gets so many facts wrong or fails to tell the complete picture.
I would suggest that he is forced to distort for a simple reason: if he laid out all the facts, his policy prescriptions would be readily seen as absurd.
Let’s take Iran. If he spelled out directly its role as a primary sponsor of terror and identified its leaders as calling for the extermination of Jews then it would seem odd, bizarre I think, to suggest:
That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.
Why that’s daft, you’d say, if you heard the litany of Iran’s misdeeds and the details of its ongoing relationship with those seeking Israel’s destruction. You can’t give them nuclear capability. Moreover, you’d be wondering why the president is pestering Israel about settlements while madmen in Tehran edge closer to acquiring nuclear weapons. So he needs to leave out the “bad stuff” about Iran.
Likewise, it wouldn’t really do to trace each of the Arab wars against Israel, the Israelis’ withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza and ensuing violence, and the efforts of his secretary of state’s husband to broker a Palestinian state less than ten years ago. You’d begin to get the idea that the problem is not so mutual. You’d see that the Palestinians don’t have clean hands in all this. And you might wonder what a few settlements have to do with anything if withdrawing from whole territories only brought more violence. So again, he needs to leave out the “bad stuff.”
This is a dangerous tactic. And ironically, for a president who promised to be “honest,” it is nothing short of deceptive. Try as he might, the president can’t wish away the underlying realities of the situation in the Middle East and the intentions of Israel’s foes. It is critical to get those out on the table, for by failing to account for them we are also failing to address the barriers to the “peace process” — or frankly, explain why it doesn’t exist. He has constructed an artifice that bears little resemblance to facts, to history, and to real and immediate dangers for the U.S. and our allies. This is not a mere rhetorical flaw; it is a flaw in his national security vision, as naive and dangerous as Jimmy Carter and as sure to fail.
Moreover, it leaves our allies shaking their heads and with every reason to attend to military defenses. After all, does he sound like a president who’d come rushing to their aid? The president may not be operating in the real world, but they are. And now they know they will need to fend for themselves.