Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama’s Cairo Speech

Like a few other commentators, I found Obama’s speech to the Muslim world to be suitable and even strong at points. I feared yet another apology-fest that would gloss over the constructive aspects of American foreign policy, and how it has done noble things for Muslims in Europe and the Middle East. I feel he did a pretty fine job explaining America’s transgressions and achievements, especially when considering the crowd it was intended for.

Chris Dierkes at the Ordinary Gentleman was struck by the general sanity and blatancy of his argument. Standing up for education for all, pluralism, freedom of worship, and the right to self determination: all points that really shouldn’t be radical opinions at this point in history, although some in the Muslim world will clearly see them as such.

Max Boot hits on a number of points I share as well. On Obama’s use of history in the speech, Max writes:
Should Obama have summarized the real — as opposed to the air-brushed — history? Probably not. His point wasn’t to settle historical accounts but to put the best face forward to the Muslim world, and he did that, while still tactfully criticizing Muslim countries and defending the United States. Some passages that I particularly liked:

‘The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. …

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America but its promise exists for all who come to our shores.’

I realize that the Obama speech isn’t going to satisfy those (like me) who once thrilled to Bush’s unapologetic pro-democracy rhetoric but, for all of Obama’s rhetorical sleight of hands and elisions, I thought he did an effective job of making America’s case to the Muslim world. No question: He is a more effective salesman than his predecessor was. Which doesn’t mean that his audience will buy the message.
Others have noted that the same speech could have easily been made by America’s previous President, who is currently far less popular in the Muslim world. Michael Crowley at the New Republic writes:
“In some ways, Obama's speech was anticlimactic. He said nothing terribly surprising, broke no new intellectual or policy ground. This was another one in a familiar series of Obama addresses seeking "common ground," just as he did between pro-lifers and pro-choicers at Notre Dame last month, and just as he did in his March 2008 speech about the "common hopes" of whites and blacks in Philadelphia.

But in fact, much of Obama's speech had a different sort of familiar ring. Most of his main arguments have been made before--not just by Obama himself, but by his predecessor. "Today I'd like to speak directly to the people across the broader Middle East," George W. Bush said at the United Nations on September 16, 2006. Like Obama, Bush explained that the United States is not at war with Islam. Like Obama, Bush said that America respects the history and traditions of the Muslim world. Like Obama, Bush deplored the September 11 attacks and vowed to fight the tiny minority of Islamic extremists. Bush also assured his audience that "freedom, by its nature, cannot be imposed. It must be chosen;" Obama said that "no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other." Bush lamented the "daily humiliation of occupation" suffered by the Palestinians; Obama said the Palestinians "endure the daily humiliations... that come with occupation." Bush assured Iran that he did not oppose their use of peaceful nuclear power; so did Obama.”
Obama has received heat from some (myself included) for trying to play both ends of an argument, especially when explaining his foreign policy. But as Crowley and Boot both recognize, Obama is simply much more capable of making America’s case to the world in a way that Bush was never able to (or never could). I do not mind the president of our country apologizing for past errors made by our government, as long as those comments come with a defense of what is good about America and our actions elsewhere. I thought Obama did that in this speech, and while I would have preferred to hear a more vociferous justification for American actions in the name of Muslims across the globe in the last 20 years, and democracy promotion in general, I found the following subsection of Obama’s speech to be encouraging.
I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years. And much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear. No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.

Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.

But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people, the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas. They are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere
.”
For now, they are just words, but if Obama makes good on them, and continues to commit America to standing with liberals and democrats fighting theocrats and totalitarians in their home lands, I may come to be an advocate of the Obama Doctrine.

It is also telling to hear what the crowd applauded during the speech, and what they didn’t. Roger Simon at Politico writes:
“I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year,” Obama said to applause and whistles of approval.

But he was met with silence when he said: “The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.
Similarly, when Obama talked about “America’s strong bonds with Israel” and said that bond “is unbreakable” there was no applause.

Nor was there any applause when, in one of the strongest parts of his speech, Obama stood up to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier, by saying,: “Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it ignorant, and it is hateful."

But the lines that followed were met by a vast stillness. “Palestinians must abandon violence,” Obama said. “Violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.”
Perhaps this speech can change a few minds, but the optimism for a better future through discussion and understanding is going to find a deaf audience in the anti-democratic forces currently controlling and exerting influence in the Middle East. Hopefully Obama appreciates that his desire for liberalism and democracy can not be achieved with discussion alone, and that a number of of the extremists he singled out in his speech, ones that “none of us should tolerate,” will need to be crushed and defeated on the battlefield before there is peace.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Joshua Muravchik's New Piece


On the eve of President Obama’s speech in Egypt, Joshua Muravchik writes of recent defeats to the radical Islamist cause in Kuwait, and the larger trend across parts of the Middle East.
Thus continues a string of defeats for Islamists over the last year and a half from west to east. In September 2007, Morocco's Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamist group, was widely forecast to be the winner. Its support proved chimerical: It came away with 14% of the seats, trailing secularists. Iraq's provincial elections this January signaled a turn away from the sectarian religious parties that had dominated earlier pollings. This trend, capped by Kuwait's elections, has important implications.”
Like all of Muravchik’s pieces, it is well worth your time. He also just released his new book titled The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East. I am looking forward to getting my copy.

(HT LGF)

Update:

Paul Wolfowitz also has a piece in the Wall Street Journal that I agree with, imploring Obama to not step away from the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda.” He writes:
Genuine democracy is a matter of making government accountable and transparent, not only through elections but through many other means as well, including a free press. It means protecting the rights of all citizens to develop their full potential, both for their own prosperity and for the society as a whole, by protecting equal rights under the law. That includes the right of private property, which is recognized clearly in Islam. In speaking to the Muslim world, it is particularly important for the president to emphasize the importance of protecting the rights of women and those of minorities -- subjects on which he can be particularly eloquent and persuasive.

Unfortunately, today's trend is in the wrong direction in much of the Muslim world. Church burnings and other intolerant acts are increasing. As a member of a minority himself, Mr. Obama is strongly positioned to speak out against that trend.

More generally, the president could counter the belief that the U.S. is indifferent to the fate of the world's Muslims or, worse, that we demonize Islam. He could remind his listeners of the many occasions in the past 20 years when the U.S. put its men and women in harm's way -- in Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo, not to mention Afghanistan and Iraq -- to assist people suffering from tyranny or famine who happened to be Muslims
.”

You Can't Make This Stuff Up



The new Hugo Chavez themed resturant in Beirut.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Birth of Solidarity Sold

CNN International has been airing an interesting special on Poland and the end of Communism in that country. It gives some background into why the current Polish foreign policy looks and acts the way it does.

So I am a bit sad to hear the shipyards where the Solidarity Movement began are now being sold.
Poland announced Thursday that it has sold two of its historic shipyards to an offshore-registered company.

The move came after the European commission ruled that the state aid flowing for years to the three shipyards, the birthplace of the Solidarity anti-communist movement, was in breach of EU competition rules.”

Tricky Dick

Democratic activists everywhere must be rather confused at this moment.
Cheney left of Obama on gay marriage

"I think that freedom means freedom for everyone," replied the former VP. "As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay, and it is something we have lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish. Any kind of arrangement they wish
.”