In Obama's Middle East Speech, a little something for everyone to hate
President Barack Obama may have impressed much of the Arab world with his 2009 Cairo speech. But today's effort won't be remembered nearly as fondly.
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There were plenty of mom-and-apple-pie platitudes about democracy, human rights, and praise for the youths who "will shape the future." The political change of the past six months in Egypt and Tunisia and the ongoing revolts in Syria and Libya, neither guided nor inspired by the US, presents a "historic opportunity" to "pursue the world as it should be."
But amid the sweet-sounding words were plenty of lines and passages that will do more to rankle the average Middle Eastern audience than convince them that a radically new American approach is in the offing.
Exhibit A would be his comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I'm going to leave most of that aside for a later post. But suffice it to say that a speech that includes numerous calls for Arab "self-determination" while also telling Palestinians that "efforts to delegitimize Israel (by seeking UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state) will end in failure" was not well received.
(There were also bits to anger Israelis; he twice referred to Israel's "occupation" of Palestinian land).
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Other flat notes will have been heard in things unsaid. Things like "Saudi Arabia" and "Jordan." (Well, Jordan came up in the context of sharing a border with the West Bank). After all, President Obama, referring to Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian who committed suicide by setting himself on fire last December, touching off a wave of political demands that has changed much of the region, said that "we have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity."