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  • Obama in Cairo: Not a Game Changer

    President Obama’s speech was an attempt to create deeper understanding between America and Muslims throughout the world, but the feel-good impact of the speech is unlikely to last long or change opinions about America among those who object to U.S. policies in the Middle East and South Asia.

    His pledge to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam was welcomed by Muslim observers. He also emphasized the need for more tolerance and the safeguarding of diversity in Muslim-majority countries, a point that needs to be made more often and more loudly. He noted the importance of protecting religious freedom for minorities and suggested Muslims need to be mindful of one another’s differences.

    He could have been more explicit about non-violent Islamist extremism and the dangers it poses to the ideals of individual freedom and religious liberty. He addressed it indirectly by expressing the U.S. commitment to democratic values but he should have been more direct in order to provide moral support for Muslims around the world who are themselves fighting against such ideologies.

    By avoiding using the word “Islamist,” he is downplaying the ideological underpinnings for terrorism. Obama is right that we should not equate terrorism with the religion of Islam, but we also need to be ready to engage in the battle of ideas and be clear when political Islam contradicts the ideals of individual freedom and religious liberty.

    He was right to emphasize the importance of women’s rights. This is a key issue for promoting liberty in Muslim-majority countries.

    It was also important that he talked about the founding principles of America. This should happen more often in our public diplomacy. It is much more productive than trying to promote popular American culture as an instrument of public diplomacy, which is a losing proposition.

    He talked about the success of Muslims in America, noting that people from all races, creeds, and religions can be successful in America. But he should have gone further to make the point that this is possible because of the rule of law and democratic checks on authority.

    Oversimplification of the Arab-Israeli Conflict and other Middle East Challenges

    Obama shared his personal experience living in a Muslim country and sought to connect the civil rights movement in the U.S. with the Palestinians’ struggle for an independent state. This was a mistake, because the American civil rights movement did not have the goal of destroying the U.S., while many Palestinians, including those in Hamas and other Islamist extremist movements, remain implacably committed to destroying Israel. Moreover, he failed to make the point that Muslims living in Israel have more civil rights and freedoms than Muslims living under Hamas repression.

    Obama also grossly understated the threat posed by Hamas to Israel and to Palestinians themselves. He vaguely talked about Hamas as if it is just another political party, without acknowledging its revolutionary Islamist ideology which rejects not only peace negotiations with Israel but Israel’s very existence. And he accepted the Arab viewpoint in talking about “occupation” and “humiliation” without mentioning the Arab attacks on Israel that triggered repeated wars and the Palestinian terrorism that has sabotaged past peace efforts. The Arabs could have created a Palestinian state after 1948 but did not. Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza.

    There is also a distinct danger that by raising Muslim expectations of a rapid movement to a peace settlement that downplays Israel’s security requirements and the threat of continued terrorism, the President will be creating the conditions for a backlash when these hopes are disappointed.

    In Israel, the speech is likely to be perceived as an attempt to appease Muslims at Israel’s expense. There will be growing concern that the Obama administration is giving short shrift to Israel’s security needs and underplaying the threat of terrorism.

    Obama also attacked the decision to go to war in Iraq, calling it “a war of choice,” without mentioning that Saddam Hussein failed to respond to several years of diplomacy and instead chose to flout several Security Council resolutions.

    He did not address the scale of the Iranian threat or Iran’s support for terrorism, or even UN sanctions against Iran.

    Al-Qaeda Attempt to Upstage Speech

    Al-Qaeda failed in its attempt to upstage the Obama speech. Releasing two successive tapes this week, one on Tuesday by al-Zawahiri and one on Wednesday purportedly recorded by Usama bin Laden, al-Qaeda sought to portray Obama as an enemy of the Muslim world who was sowing hatred among the Muslim community, particularly with regard to U.S. policies toward Pakistan.

    The videos demonstrate that al-Qaeda is worried about Obama’s ability to appeal to the Muslim community and is desperately searching for ways to blunt his ability to do so. Al-Qaeda is focusing its efforts on Pakistan, where U.S. policies are often blamed for the rash of suicide bombings in the country over the last two years.

    Al-Qaeda may have erred by mentioning the situation in the Swat Valley, however, since the Pakistani public has recently galvanized behind the Pakistan military operations to oust the Taliban from the region. Pakistanis are increasingly viewing the Taliban as malevolent actors seeking to undermine the Pakistani state and its democratic institutions.

    Heritage Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs James Phillips co-authored this post.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    11 Responses to Obama in Cairo: Not a Game Changer

    1. Whicket Williams Kin says:

      We need to try and get along with everybody,But we must remain strong and stand by our ally, Israel. We cannot compromise our ideals for political expedency. We cannot allow our sworn enemys to attain nuclear weapons.

    2. Pingback: Obama in Cairo: Not a Game Changer » The Foundry | Ea4nt Blog- ????? ?????????

    3. John, Greenwich says:

      But it was the start of a game changer. Obviously as he acknowledged a speech doesn't change anything but it essentially framed the argument in what is clearly going to be a big push to arrive at a middle east settlement. In many ways the time is right in that events there have essentially reached stalemate. For the first time the long term balance has swung against Israel because of the Arabs use of assymetric warfare and the imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. This in reality cannot be prevented by the US or Israel. So Israel needs a settlement, and so do the Arabs who are weary and the Iranians who have a growing population and serious economic problems. Finally the US needs a settlement so we can get out of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a brilliant performance by the president whether you like his politics or not.

    4. A. Mitchell, VA says:

      It definitely wasn't a game changer since eight factions of Hamas have come out and rejected President Obama's speech and indicated that it was just more rhetoric.

      All of President Obama's speeches are eloquent, but I need to see what is behind those speeches as do the rest of us.

    5. Lloyd Scallan - New says:

      I'm conntinued to be amazed that anyone is

      surprised at how Obama hates this country and that

      he will continue to say everything he can to

      prove that to the rest of the world. He, and the

      other socialist are set on one corse. To distroy

      the America that we all know and grew up in.

    6. willow jacqueline b says:

      Drawing attention to himself, excusing our country, lifting up those who seek to harm mankind, demeaning the past administrations, and promoting himself as the be all, end all is getting boring and scary too. Guess he is wanting to be king of the universe………how demoralizing and dangerous.

    7. Normca says:

      Being respected, I think, is more important than being liked. President Reagan operated that way. The junior president is trying to be liked for him and not America. It is outrageous to hear a US president spend 75% of a topic in an over seas speech berating America. I can hardly wait to hear his comments on Normandy; blaming America for WWII. What a disgrace this man is.

    8. Jerry from Chicago says:

      While trying to earn the respect of foreigners, Mr. Obama is piling up nothing but disrespect for himself among a growing number of Americans at home.

      There is a difference between reaching out to other nations in an attempt to resolve differences and obsequious pandering to their wounded vanity. Lately that difference has become unclear.

    9. LW, Newport News VA says:

      OBama may have cited our founding principles, but later in this speech he said, "Any world order that elevates one nation over another or a group of people over another will invariably fail."

      In one sentence he discounted 200+ years of American exceptionalism, made possible by our freedoms. He longs for the same outcome for every person, i.e. an economic status achieved only through socialism.

      As for wanting Muslims to succeed in America, yeah, I guess he does because success in his mind now equals a larger contribution (can anyone say taxes?) to the federal coffers. Everybody gets to be miserable together.

      As for Heritage wishing he would have cited our democratic checks on authority—wow! If he had, then he would have acknowledged there is such a thing as a U.S. Constitution which in his mind is an aging document in need of change, not to mention his complaints about its limits to federal power(interview with Chicago PBS station, 2001). Also, I'm beginning to wonder if he would even recognize the U.S. Constitution if it smacked him in the face. I doubt it. Just look at his infringements on the rule of law since taking office.

      His list of historical and cultural accomplishments of the Muslim world (which Heritage did not mention) were all lies any seventh grader could dispute through a goggle search. Yet no one in the MSM choose to address that. If someone lies about one thing, then isn't it reasonable to conclude there are more lies? Yeah, just read the parts about Hamas. If you didn't know better, you'd think they were a tame political party.

      All told the speech will make little difference except the Muslim world now knows beyond any question that this president is grossly naive or ignorant (take your pick) about the evils that exist in this world. And terrorists will act accordingly. The speech did a disservice to us, our brave men and women in uniform, our allies, and the Muslim world.

    10. Walter, Louisville, says:

      I was struck by the fact that Obama mentioned how accomodating the US has been to Islam with over 1200 mosques in our country. Please note that Obama stated that he was a Christian. He, along with the Pope, might be the only two Christians who might be able to get away making an announcement like that in a Muslim nation since both are guarded with huge security details. On the flipside if I were to go over to a Muslim dominated nation, waving my Bible and preaching Jesus Christ, I will get my head handed to me and the people will be dancing in the streets and shouting "Look, we killed another Christian dog!" Now I ask, is that mutual respect?

    11. Lynn B. DeSpain says:

      As an American, I do not appreciate this Nation's President Appologizing to anyone, anywhere else on this Planet, for my actions, my childrens action, my parents, grand parents, and my people all the way back to the time when this Great Nation bled against England to become Free.

      Hozro

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