15 June 2009

Cairo Speech

Well, I am no closer to an answer. I may have to spend another year teaching abroad, maybe in Korea or somewhere else. I'm going to have a sit-down with Lizzie and figure out what we want to do. At least now she's no longer just going to have to follow me somewhere, so there's an upside to it: we can meet her goals as well. My mother is going to freak out, though.

The news have been filled with items of amazing interest. Of particular note was Obama's speech in Cairo. It was respectful and well-phrased, but then, we would expect nothing less from this President.
Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."
But even better, the speech was candid in some ways. Obama didn't simply defend Israel as is the norm for American Presidents (as Israel is the beneficiary of a half-dozen powerful interest groups in Washington), but he also endorsed the two-state solution and condemned further illegal settlements. He sums up effectively:
For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.
The President took some criticism on the speech from both the right and the left. Peretz at the New Republic took him to task for ignoring Zionism and associated historical movements and oversimplifying Israel's founding as being essentially compensation for the Holocaust. And even though I think this flaw doesn't seriously diminish the impact of the speech, it's a good criticism that hits on target.
When Obama attributes the establishment of Israel, and also Israel's fear that the Iranian government and many Arabs would quite happily visit another devastation on it, to the Holocaust, he is in fact accepting Dr. Ahmadinejad's analysis of the Zionist triumph and also one of the tenets of Palestinian rejectionism, which is that the Palestinians are correct in their phobia that they have paid the price for what the Nazis did to the Jews.
But even though he took some flack, by and large the President's Cairo speech was well-received. It was even more well-received a few days later, when Iran and Lebanon went to the polls to vote. While Iran returned Ahmadinejad to the Presidency (something which read as a defeat to - surprise surprise - that same critic at the New Republic who hated the speech), Lebanon surprised all forecasters by turning out Hezbollah, and the pro-western coalition won a comfortable victory instead. Commentators on the left have been quick to call the speech a major factor. Hertzberg at the New Yorker opines:
The words of an American President, even one from Chicago, were not necessarily foremost in the minds of the Shiites, Sunnis, Druze, and Christians of many theological varieties and political persuasions who lined up to cast their ballots and dip their thumbs in ink. But most analysts agreed that Obama’s speech, and the carefully constructed edifice of public diplomacy of which it was the keystone, was a factor in the outcome.
Amidst a sea of delayed gratifications (Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal) and questionable accreditation (stimulus results), this looks to me as a clear and firm evidence of Obama being a great President.

Also, check out Inside the Obama White House. Regardless of how you feel about the President himself at this point, it's an amazing look into the West Wing. Carefully controlled, but with astonishing access. Yet another display of Obama's political skill and message control. Regardless of his policies and ability as a leader - I think they're good, but there are legitimate reasons to think otherwise - it has to be said that he is one of the most adept politicians of this age. It helps a lot these days that the Republicans are tearing at their own flesh; yet another moderating Republican (Bennett) is going to have to pour money into a challenge from his compatriots, unsettling a seat long considered GOP territory.

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