The Current Discussion: What did you think of Obama's speech in Cairo? What kind of change will, or won't, it bring?
The principle and offer of a new beginning by the American president is much welcomed, even if it is to repair damage and in apology for the Bush Era. However, one cannot help but recall an old Persian proverb that “two hundred speeches won’t sum up to half a deed”. Mr. Obama is a good orator. He communicates clearly as a master politician who wants to keep everyone happy. But it is time to show by tangible deeds and firm steps, and not be summarily dismissed as yet another speech of a novice president and his “I have a dream” speech of the Martin Luther King legacy.
During these first months, and as seen with America’s posture towards Cuba, his words have indicated little more than a mere rolling back of stated foreign policy goals to the Clinton era. A quick recall of Bill Clinton’s speeches delivered in the Muslim world in the1990s will leave the listener bemused that many passages were simply transliterated (with quotes from the Quran, the Bible and Torah.) The distinction is simply the delivery of rehashed words from a man presiding over a maxed-out bust on political, and financial, credit and short of return on political capital invested in places like Iraq (Clinton, for his part, rendered a post-Cold War tune in the tone of upbeat country music by a Sunday preacher).
Put differently, and If Mr. Obama’s speech was the “sudden” discovery of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims, then he said nothing new. Alternatively, if the American president is stuck in the Bush era belief a few violent extremists (such as the al-Qaeda gang) are truly the top adversary of the world’s strongest military power (akin to the old USSR), then Mr. Obama ought to go back to the drawing board and reset his horizons. Perhaps Mr. Obama felt compelled to compete with bin Laden and quote from the Quran.
The real people in the Middle East are tired of war, waste of life and petty politics of lobbyists in Washington. All yearn for restoration of dignity and justice as all are convinced that abject, howsoever mighty, military muscle will not win the hearts and minds of peaceful people, just as it did not succeed in Iraq and or in the Pakistan-Afghanistan theater, Locally, the signs of banning torture or closing Guantanamo prisons never stacked up with stories about human rights. The rueful if inevitable step of a country running low on political capital will not be mistaken as a positive beginning.
It is also fascinating to observe that Mr. Obama pronounced a willingness to turn the page on Iran as he acknowledged the interventions of the United States in Iranian affairs and the toppling of a democratically elected government. He also said he wanted talks with Iran without preconditions. That is nice to hear and welcomed too, but Mr. Obama ought to be more convincing with deeds. His removal of a hostile posture against Iran should begin with dismantling sanctions and the coercion of other countries on dealing with Iran. And after a decade of IAEA inspections and fact finding, America should stop trying to compel Iran to prove a negative. Two hundred speeches won’t sum to half a deed.
Another important observation is how the American president gingerly avoided the word elections and transparent political structures in Cairo, where a president-for-life has been in office for 29 years, albeit when Iranians (and Lebanese) are busy debating, campaigning and looking forward to reaching the ballot boxes. No word about that in the presidential song after his stop in Saudi Arabia, with the usual hugs and friendly gestures of keeping the old status quo, the price of oil low, and the customer for treasury bonds sweet. Thus, Muslim observers will be cautious in believing the pretence of a hasty change and will not be quickly drawn to some else’s words of dream-- at least without first seeing change that they can believe in!
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