Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Obama's Upcoming Speech In Cairo

Robert Dreyfuss, veteran foreign affairs commentator and Nation Magazine staffer, reflects on Obama's upcoming speech to the Muslim world:

More than anything else -- more, even, than the invasion of Iraq -- it was Bush's unquestioning embrace of Israel, his refusal to deal with Yasser Arafat, his endorsement of Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon and its 2008-2009 war in Gaza that angered Muslims around the world. True, those actions were exploited by Muslim autocrats seeking to divert their populations from problems at home. True, those actions were used by Al Qaeda and its allies to recruit angry, desperate young men to violence. But that's the point. America's blind support for Israeli expansionism and intransigence bolsters the power of autocrats and provides recruiting slogans for Al Qaeda et al. It also is a stumbling block to better relations with Iran.

By committing the United States to an unwavering, international effort to rally support for a deal between Israel and Palestine, Obama can put the capstone on the break not only with the Bush administration, but with decades of American policy that put Israel first. King Abdullah of Jordan -- no radical, the son of king who was literally on the CIA payroll -- has suggested that peace will be a "23-state solution," i.e., peace between Israel, Palestine and the 21 members of the Arab League who support the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative. Not only that, but such a deal would include the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), who've broadly endorsed the Arab plan.

Good speechmaking might work in political systems as vapid as the US one, but I think the Muslim world has had its fair share of ultra-charismatic speechocrats, and what Obama really needs to deliver in his address are concrete promises he can keep. Obama is viewed infinitely better than Bush was in the region, but the reaction to him still has been mostly tepid. People in that part of the world have seen their fair share of eloquent demagogues, and they aren't going to let a guy who can rattle off a Harvard laywer speech and give a wide smile improve their opinion of US policies -- they are actually going to want the policies to be better.

A firm commitment to not militarily dominating the region might be a good first step. Of course, the Gingrich-Limbaugh axis will whine incessantly about any such thing, but then again, they do that about everything, and probably will attack Obama regardless.

Obama will have to straddle a fine line will in Egypt. Egypt houses a moderately repressive but completely autocratic ruler who is a strong US ally. It would seem completely callous for him to not make any remarks about the fact that Egyptian democracy is all but completely stalled under Mubarak, but he probably also doesn't want to anger an ally and a country that will be very crucial in future negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

One thing I don't think Obama should worry too much about is, like I said before, angering the Gingrich-Limbaugh axis. They probably are going to paint the very fact that he addressed Muslims with any level of respect as some kind of appeasement or whatever their newest way to paint the (elected by the majority of the American people) President as anti-American.

Ultimately, it will be American actions that will decide if Muslim-American relations will be healed. That means an end to military occupations in the Middle East, a constructive process to socially and economically advance the region, and an end to the decades-long policy of it being oil pretty much determining our policy in the region (which, hopefully, the alternative energy initiative will take care of).

The best thing for Obama to do verbally in a speech, and something I know he won't do, because I'm sure he doesn't have the guts to, would be a simple apology about what some of our policies have done in the region. Honor is very important in this part of the world, and it's something that would be appreciated. But if he did that, it wouldn't just be the Limbaugh-Gingrich axis that'd go after him, it'd be the big military thinkers in the US -- the think tank and elite circus -- that would see any sort of admission of moral error as eroding American "credibility" and leading to a decline of our hegemony (which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing in my view, but these folks are convinced otherwise). Heck, Mitt Romney, who apparently still thinks he's relevant, has already jumped onboard that train. I guess the endless pandering to fundamentalist Christianity by these people doesn't include the virtues of apology and forgiveness.

Still, I look forward to being pleasantly surprised with what Obama says, and more importantly with what he promises.