Attractive new covers for the same old book

Few speeches during the past decade have been so eagerly awaited as was Obama’s address in Cairo last Thursday, June 4th. And few speeches have received such wide and far review during these early days of the millennium.

This flawlessly delivered speech, paused with 33 applause interruptions, was hosted by the Islamic epicenter of learning represented by Al-Azhar, oldest university in the world (970 AD), and center of Islamic law and jurisprudence; and century-old Cairo University.

No one expects a formal speech by a US president to contain galimatias or display any degree of paralogia. Speechwriters at that level of diplomacy and politics are masters in their trade, no matter whether they’re composing an allocution for a highly inarticulate dodo, such as George W. Bush, or for a brilliant orator such as President Obama. And Barack Obama, just like Bill Clinton before him, would only give such a discourse after assuming the roles of chief architect and principal reviser of such a momentous piece.

It should have been obvious by the time the election was over seven months ago that American foreign policy would undergo change, if not in substance at the very least in tone; something that quickly was evidenced in January as the new president was sworn into office. So why are we acting so surprised to Obama’s peace greeting of Assalumu-alaikum; or his evocation of the Holy Quran in the same positive vein as the Holy Bible or the Talmud; or his praises of Arab extensive and impressive contribution to humanity in every field of endeavor?

One would be hard pressed to find a better messenger for peace to the people of Islam than a vibrant, intelligent young president of this most powerful nation. And, if that were not enough, someone named Hussein (“good, small handsome one” in Arabic) fathered by a Believer (Islam), who had received an early education in Indonesia, most populous among the Muslim nations, accompanied daily by the call of the azaan at both the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.

And no better script could have been written for a play – script with peace as its central theme, and not the fearful, overused word, terror; or the previous Bush-type haranguing in a call to arms for an overly simplistic “war on terror.” This was a for real, unrehearsed reality show. All of this coming on the heels of a Bush presidency distrusted in most of the world, and detested by most in the Middle East. Rhetoric to some, perhaps... but to others, a relighting of hope!

And here is where reviewers, most if not all, fall victim to this mirage presented as an oasis of hope. For all the good intentions, apparent candor, vicissitudes, truisms, and reach for peace and common ground, Obama’s outreach to Muslim communities around the world did not fully make the grade. Why? Because as the day turns into night, and the glitter of the words disappears in the dark, pragmatism shows up in the form of a flashlight focusing at the realities of the situation without the embellishment provided by emotions and effective oratory. And the reality in this speech shows a soft diplomacy designed to enhance and brighten the image of the US, and little or nothing else.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Past Iraq and Afghanistan, the true focus of peace for the Muslim peoples of this earth rests in what happens in a geography commanding a small area of 10,000 square miles where almost 5 million believers of Islam live, and a place where their third most holy city, Jerusalem, is located. It’s all about the Holy Land and the two peoples who lay claim to that land: Palestinians and Israelis.

What might have added a strong measure of credibility to this address simply wasn’t there! Nothing from Obama’s recent meeting with Netanyahu that would indicate good faith by Israel in dropping all reservations to the 2003 Road Map… and the freezing of all settlement activity in Palestine. In fact, Israel’s present government signals quite the opposite, making it rather obvious that this White House is in Israel’s pocket just like all others before. Reservations made by Israel to the Road Map render it worthless.

One thing the US cannot do is make this Israel-Palestine issue one of Might vs. Right, as it has done for the past four decades, and the United States must acknowledge that. To proclaim neutrality on an issue where such is not the case is hypocrisy at its worst.

The entire speech, as you take a second closer look, appears as nothing but a public relations coup, an exhortation designed to cleanse the image of the United States before the Muslim world. Of course, that’s a far more desirable stand than giving a diatribe, a la Bush, warning others of dire consequences if US desires aren’t met… redefining Arab moderates as those who capitulate to the wishes of the US.

Obama with his speech in Cairo bound the Middle East book with more attractive covers without having to change any of the text. Most in his American audience appear fooled, but that’s not likely to have happened to those adversely affected by past and present US policies towards the Middle East.