Friday, June 05, 2009

The Cairo Speech

I'll link to Kos for it, they've got video and a transcript over there.

It's solid. Acknowledging both America's mistakes in the region, the ideals that it has (that it doesn't always live up to), the need for change in its relationship with the Muslim world, all of that will almost certainly help. Saying "Islam is part of America" should be stating the obvious; but considering the pseudo-crusading tenor of the Bush administration's attitude towards foreign policy, it will make a difference.

The fact that he's not needlessly belligerent towards Iran and acknowledges their right to peaceful nuclear energy generation is a positive step, too: he's just stating what everybody else knows, and will help empower moderates in the upcoming Iranian election at exactly the time when it will do the most good. Certainly it helps separate him from the neoconservatives that preceded him, who seem to think of the NPT as a pretext for bombing the holy hell out of anybody who looks at them sideways, not a binding agreement between states.

And it was ballsy (no other word for it) to juxtapose the plights of the Israelis and Palestinians:

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

This isn't that out of step with previous administrations; Bush called for a two-state solution, as much as anybody else, though it's pretty clear nobody in his administration was serious about it. But to put these two things together is still surprising. Those who advocate for Israel's security using the holocaust as a warning seem to rarely discuss the Palestinians except as a military and "demographic" threat; those who scream for a Palestinian state often forget the very real reasons why the Jewish people would be desperate for a secure homeland to call their own, one where they cannot be oppressed or exiled. To acknowledge that the Palestinians have rights is not to deny Israelis their concern and vice versa, but in the nonsensical point-scoring game that is most "debate" on the issue, you'd never, ever see anybody address both. Obama does, to his credit.

Less to his credit is this paragraph:

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.
Buddy, considering what you've been doing lately on issues like wiretaps, detainment, and FISA, I wouldn't be shooting your mouth off.

And that's the issue. Obama's building a worrying track record of high-flying rhetoric paired with disappointing action. Progressives are already getting peeved; one only need glance at Glenn Greenwald's website on any given day to see how much. Certainly any attempt at balance and real Islamic outreach will be hard to get past Congress, considering how AIPAC has been consolidating their Congressional Democratic support lately. But there have been any number of other issues where Obama could have taken the lead, and yet has acted timidly at best, or like some kind of doctrinaire Republican at worst. Sure, he's never been the full-bore progressive that some have claimed he has, and certainly isn't the socialist the howler monkeys on the right have screamed about. But he's contradicting his sound earlier positions for baffling reasons, and needs to remember who his real supporters are, and who will abandon him the moment the Republicans become relevant again.

It was a very nice speech. But it's about action, Mr. President.

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