Commentary Magazine


Topic: Cairo speech

Obama’s “New Beginning” Lies in Ruin

People may recall that in Barack Obama’s June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo, the president promised a “new beginning” based on “mutual respect” with the Arab and Islamic world. Mr. Obama’s own background, his eagerness to apologize for America, and willingness to engage the Arab world would usher in an unprecedented era of cooperation.

Mr. Obama said, “We have the power to make the world we seek.” He added:

but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written. The Holy Koran tells us: “O mankind!  We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.” The Holy Bible tells us:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

I thought about the president’s New Beginning the other day, glancing at the top three items in the “What’s News” section of the Wall Street Journal. And this is what I read:

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People may recall that in Barack Obama’s June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo, the president promised a “new beginning” based on “mutual respect” with the Arab and Islamic world. Mr. Obama’s own background, his eagerness to apologize for America, and willingness to engage the Arab world would usher in an unprecedented era of cooperation.

Mr. Obama said, “We have the power to make the world we seek.” He added:

but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written. The Holy Koran tells us: “O mankind!  We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.” The Holy Bible tells us:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

I thought about the president’s New Beginning the other day, glancing at the top three items in the “What’s News” section of the Wall Street Journal. And this is what I read:

  • The U.S. is preparing plans for a possible Syrian collapse.
  • Egyptian President Morsi shuffled his government, strengthening the Muslim Brotherhood and sparking opposition complaints.
  • House Republicans plan to question State Department officials about the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

It looks to me as if Mr. Obama’s work here on earth seems to be falling rather short of what we might expect; and that the president’s New Beginning has made that part of the world less just, more violent, and more dangerous than the world he inherited.

It is disquieting to realize that in virtually every area, the gap between what Barack Obama promised and what his policies have produced is as cavernous as that of any president in modern times.

Barack Obama wanted to do the job of a president. It just turns out he wasn’t up to it.

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The End of Obama’s “New Beginning”

It seems so so long since President Obama’s famous Cairo speech.

On June 4, 2009, speaking at Cairo University, the president, who still has not visited America’s most stalwart ally in the region, Israel, told his listeners that he was turning the page on the acrimony that had previously defined relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

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It seems so so long since President Obama’s famous Cairo speech.

On June 4, 2009, speaking at Cairo University, the president, who still has not visited America’s most stalwart ally in the region, Israel, told his listeners that he was turning the page on the acrimony that had previously defined relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

To show how serious he was, he accepted on behalf of America a generous measure of blame for strained relations with Muslim countries, saying, “The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust…. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

That speech was titled, portentously, “A New Beginning.” Now, more than three years later, as American legations across the Middle East find themselves under siege from angry mobs, it appears that Obama was about as successful in rolling back the tides of anti-Americanism as he was in slowing the rise of the oceans and healing the planet. Even Obama’s personal popularity, once stratospheric around the world, has slipped significantly since he took office. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, support for Obama has waned in Europe and Japan but still remains high there (at 80% and 74% respectively). He has done worse in Russia (36% approval), China (38%), and Mexico (42%). And he has done worst of all in the very Muslim countries where he expended so much effort to improve his–and his country’s–image. Obama’s popularity in the Muslim world was never that high to begin with (33% in 2009) and it has fallen to 24%. That is indicative of falling support for the U.S. On Obama’s watch, the percentage expressing favorable attitudes toward the U.S. in the Muslim world has fallen from 25% to 15%.

This is not necessarily a disaster–many of us had argued all along that there is a certain in-built resentment of the U.S. around the world and especially in the Middle East that is very hard to budge, and that what counts more than courting popularity is pursuing policies that are in our national interest. Obama has actually done this in some areas and paid the price in lost approval. Pew reports that the biggest drag on America’s global image is the campaign of drone strikes which Obama has accelerated. “In 17 of 20 countries,” Pew found, “more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.”

Thankfully, Obama has continued the strikes anyway–because they are one of our best tools for fighting terrorists. Implicitly, at least, he seems to be recognizing that foreign policy is not a popularity test.

Still, it must be particularly bitter for Obama to see how unpopular the U.S. remains despite nearly four years of his leadership. Perhaps in his memoirs he might even express some remorse over his relentless criticism of his predecessor for making America so unpopular.

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