Obama’s message: We’ll come to you

[Kathy has already commented on Obama’s speech, but I want to comment, too.]

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

JFK Inaugural

If you haven’t heard Obama’s speech from Cairo University yet, allow me to fix that problem: click here.

Overall, this is what we elected Obama for.  Not just to give great speeches, but the venues this president opens up for his message — and America’s mission.  This is not a speech that John McCain could have given since he never would have been invited to give such.  And just a few months ago, another president got shoes tossed at him when he tried presiding over a press conference in Baghdad.  The difference between the Muslim world’s reaction to our presidents in just those short months is stark — positively stark.  I don’t want to heap praise on Obama because the more platitudes one offers, the more their message is weakened…  But using the word “incredible” to describe what Obama accomplished with this speech isn’t out of the question.

This is despite the specifics of the speech.  There’s a lot I could quibble with; not  the least of which is the standing of al-Azhar University — one of the sponsors of Obama’s speech to the Muslim world.  They have also sponsored rhetoric from Islamist terrorists in the past.  The juxtaposition of seeing al-Azhar support any American president is surreal to me, but much of the university’s ideology is, to me, shrouded in mystery.  I imagine they have diverse opinions from their student and faculty bodies, much like an American school, but I intend to explore this question further when I’m in Cairo this fall.

Regardless, there’s a reason I started this post with a quote from JFK’s inaugural address and not one from Obama’s Cairo speech.  I’ve been immersed in a book by Warren Bass, Support Any Friend, which details how US policy towards Israeli fundamentally changed during the Kennedy administration, shaping the “special relationship” Israel and the US share today.  This is different from US/Israeli policy, and indeed our policy towards the Middle East, that Eisenhower left for Kennedy.  After the Suez Crisis of 1956 that placed the US and USSR on nuclear alert, Egypt and Syria combining to form the United Arab Republic (UAR) which received support from Moscow, civil war in Lebanon, and a loss of an ally after Iraq suffers a coup, Kennedy had a huge Middle Eastern mess to clean up.  Neither JFK or LBJ completed the job, as evidence, not in the least part, by the Arab/Israeli crisis which still haunts us decades later.  But one thing Kennedy did is, reversing the policy of the Eisenhower administration which isolated Middle Eastern actors, Kennedy offered a hand of support to any nation which would take it.  Israel, as fate would have it, did a much better job of grasping our hand than Egypt/UAR did.

“…Support any friend, oppose any foe…”

JFK pledged to “support any friend” from Washington.  In the 1960s this may have been progressive, but in today’s world extending a hand from Washington isn’t good enough.  Obama realizes this, and he has taken not only JFK’s message but his own hand to Cairo and extended it.  Obama has shown that he will not sit in Washington and wait for friends to come to him, but his foreign policy will be based on pursuing friendships.  And, as evidenced by Obama’s strong criticism of both sides in the Arab/Israeli conflict, he’s going to base these friendships off honesty and trust.

After Bush’s era of fear and war, this is the only way to move forward.  We can’t afford more of the former.

6 Responses to “Obama’s message: We’ll come to you”

  1. Kathy says:

    Great post, tas. I’m glad you decided to comment, too!

  2. Jack Jodell says:

    Very well put, tas! In this area, as well as in dealing with the economy, Obama is grabbing the bull by the horns, as the leader of the most powerful nation on earth should do. It is quite a contrast in style between Obama and his predecessor, too. Obama’s is activism, engagement, and dialogue, always healthy things when handled responsibly, as he is doing. Bush’s behavior was what one would expect of a pampered rich boy: bullying, refusal to engage in discussion, and “my way or the highway.” That Obama was received as well as he was in the Muslim world is indeed incredible. It is a source of optimism for setting a tone of genuine cooperation and maybe even real peace in that violence-ravaged part of the world. And he accomplished this without capitulating on anything or giving anything away. Such are the benefits of logical straight-talking, something Bush was obviously incapable of doing. Sanity has returned to Washington, and it will prove contagious.

  3. tas says:

    On Bush and his pampered rich boy persona, I think that came off in the way he tried adopting cultures just for a speech. Presently studying Arabic, something I noticed during Bush’s shoe throwing press conference, that not many other Americans would notice, is that when Bush said “Thank you very much” in Arabic before the shoes were hurled — shukran gazilan — his accent, well, sucked. You know when a white person mocks spanish and we all understand it? That’s what it sounded like. In Obama’s speech yesterday, when he pronounced Arabic words it sounded like he made an effort to learn a little of the language. For example, while much of the media notes that Muslims cheered when Obama said “Hello” in Arabic — as-salaam aleikum — what they don’t note is that the Arabic greeting’s literal meaning is “peace be upon you”. Before this greeting, he thanked Cairo for its hospitality, then said that he carried a greeting of peace from the “Muslims in my country.” It’s this kind of attention to detail that garnered the applause; not simply that Obama said hi to Cairo in a good Arabic accent, but knew the meaning of the greeting. This shows a willingness on the part of America’s president to learn about their culture, which they appreciate — especially given the hack “rich boy” who preceded him that displayed no real intentions to learn about, much less live in harmony with, the Islamic culture.

  4. It was indeed a laudable performance by Obama but time will tell if anything “tangible” gets accomplished via this posture. Iran just fired up 5000 more centrifuges according to the IAEA, does anyone doubt they intend to be a Nuclear Power?

    That JFK quote bears little resemblance to today’s Progressive line of thinking, in my view. I wish JFK were still around rather than fat Teddy. Kennedy’s defense of “liberty” would be considered radical in today’s political environment.

  5. You did a fine post on the speech. I am from a different part of the world, more like the Middle East and less like America, and although some Arab bloggers have made negative comments I tell you that President Obama’s speech touched me deeply. He understands more about the culture and the people and the language than any American president ever has, in my lifetime. His speech is full of symbols that are very meaningful to Muslims and to Asians. A speech cannot reverse the lifetimes of damage created and continued by Imperialist and colonialist policy over the past 100 years (at least), but President Obama’s speech gives me hope. Be proud, America, that you elected such a man. If anyone can solve the problems that face us today, it is this man.

  6. Obama outlined some flaws/errors in US Policy during his speech. When will any Islamic Leader do the same?? I really don’t see any Arab/Muslim Leaders reaching out to the US or trying to “understand” Americans. Seems like a 1-way street, and Islam/Muslims have plenty to repent for in the past as well as current/recent atrocities in their name.

    Question: Can anyone explain why Michelle Obama didn’t go on the Middle Eastern Trip?

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