Commentary Magazine


Re: Obama in Cairo

The president’s speech in Cairo, which can be read in full here, was not as horrific as some might have expected after the run of Israel bashing leading up to it and his prior apology tour in Europe. That is not to say the speech did not have some serious shortcomings; it did. And we see played out on the world stage how utterly devoted the president is to a sort of moral relativism that is deeply troubling and potentially dangerous.

On the positive side, there is not much abject apologizing going on. There is mention of the overthrow of the Iranian government and “colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims” (not clear what century he is referring to) but this is kept to a minimum. While he does talk at length about America in a positive light he, as he is wont to do, largely ignores what America has sacrificed in blood and treasure for Muslims. I haven’t the foggiest idea why he avoids this; it is a “selling” point for his country. And yes, there’s lots of self-referential stuff about his childhood abroad. This is, after all, an Obama speech.

Also positive, in his “reasons we don’t get along so well” he lists violent extremism first. It is rather clear and decisive. He gives a robust defense of the war in Afghanistan.

Also more positive than not, the president comes fairly close to recognizing the benefits of the Iraq war. He says:

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq’s sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq’s democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

What is missing, of course, is the lesson to be extracted for Iraq’s neighbors: democracy is not antithetical to Arab culture and the notion that the people of the Middle East must suffer under tin pot dictators was revealed to be untrue. (He later talks about democracy but he is fails once again to make the sale — he simply can’t bring himself to praise the handiwork of his predecessor.)

And this is, again, Obama, so he doubles down on his hopelessly unworkable Guantanamo plan:

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

Note that he falsely suggests that he banned torture; no, it was always illegal (that’s why they are attempting to prosecute those Bush lawyers, remember). Obama simply banned a range of lesser enhanced interrogation techniques. The chance to preen cannot be passed up, however.

The next long section of the speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tour de force of moral relativism — one of the least honest parts of the speech. He is in the even-handedness business so he must distort and shade history to make it all come out even. No mention of the wars against Israel, no mention that Israel offered up the Palestinians a viable state in 2000. No, it’s some sort of weird replay of the American civil rights movement. And sometimes it is downright incoherent:

 Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

The Palestinians are enslaved American blacks? Well, we fought a civil war about that for starters so it’s not helping his pacifist theme. Moreover, the analogy is offensive and inapt in multiple ways.

The moral equivalence festival continues: yes, the Palestinians must give up violence and the Jews need to give up the settlements. It’s all one and the same.

But the worst of the speech comes in the ludicrously weak section on Iran. This is the sum total of his discussion on the nuclear threat:

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America’s interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. 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.

He can’t distinguish between the U.S. nuclear arsenal and Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms? This is gibberish right out the the nuclear freeze movement of the Cold War. Iran’s mullahs must be smiling: this is not someone dedicated to halting their ambitions or willing to “pick and choose.” The jig is up — his feebleness is plain for all to see.

The democracy section is generally George W. Bush lite:

But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

On religious freedom, he certainly pulls his punches. One must simply laugh at a line like “Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s.” Yeah, totally.

And on his last topic, women’s rights, he softly cajoles but makes no mention of the abject abuse of women in the Muslim world. Only if they come up with some liberal welfare programs “will [the U.S.] partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.” Might it be better if they stopped stoning women for adultery?

Will this speech accomplish anything? The American elites will swoon. But it won’t do much of anything — other than encourage Iran. The president operates from a false premise and paints a distorted picture of the region. It’s all everyone’s fault, and no one’s fault. And it’s about forgetting how we got to where we are. The Palestinians don’t lack a state because of Jewish settlements. They lack a state because they rejected one — again and again. So long as Obama is being anything but “honest” I suspect we won’t see much progress, let alone peace.

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