In a bizarre combination of technology and politics, I watched a live feed of Barack Obama speaking in Cairo via Facebook this morning. And because it's suck o'clock in the morning on the West Coast, this isn't really a live blog (who's up?), but a quick splash of reaction. I'd love to see and hear more thoughts as the day goes on, if anyone wants to comment/chat about this, or if anyone has good links to deeper analysis. The prepared text is here.
Obama structured the speech into seven issues that "we must finally confront together," and it's hard to think of a major issue not encompassed by one of these. There was the expected stuff, the soaring language and the promise of outreach, and even the slightly unexpected (but welcome) bits, like where Obama said his job demands he combat Muslim stereotypes.
His first issue was exactly what you'd expect: that we must combat "violent extremism in all its forms," and here it was mostly a rehash of things already said -- a section of reassurance, I guess, but with a tasty splash of But I Will Defend The American People Against Everything Always thrown in just in case Dick Cheney's TiVo'ing the speech.
Under this context, though, he discussed Afghanistan, to a mostly to a silent crowd, and defended -- in a tone not dissimilar to the last president's -- our need to be there, and bragged that it was a world-wide coalition. But he had some nearly bruisingly frank and, again, thinly defensive talk about 9/11 and America not being so bad. This didn't seem to go over well with the crowd -- at this point, there was the undecipherable shout of a heckler.
From there, he moved to talk about Iraq:
Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."
That's skirting very close to the edge of calling the war a mistake, which I wonder if the GOP won't pick up as a sign that Obama hates the troops.
Then, then! he moved from that firepit and right into another: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (Issue to Confront #2). After remarking that the Holocaust cannot be denied, he pledged that "Americans will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."
Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist -- but Israel must accept the right of Palestine to exist. And it must stop its settlement spread.
"America will align our policies with those who seek peace. And we will say in public what we say in private, to Israelis and Arabs." I think that might have been aimed straight at Netanyahu. No? Notice to Israel: your back channel calls are now on speakerphone.
Mentioned the story of Isra, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and got applause for saying "Peace be upon them." That's nice.
Issue Number Three: Nuclear weapons, by which Obama means Iran:
This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.
I found it a bit daring to say, here's this crap we did to you, here's this crap you did to us, this is all Very Bad Crap, and then to say but it's OK now, we'll just look forward if you will. Though I have to admit, when I was hearing him say it, it didn't sound nearly so ridiculous.
Next (fourth issue), a long, impassioned, but kind of text-booky discussion of the Wonders of Democracy. I'm a big fan myself, but Obama slipped into professor mode, here, and I would imagine to anyone not currently living in a democracy, this felt like a lecture. Not a particularly kind lecture, either, but a reminder of our vast superiority (or our arrogant exceptionalism). Kind of a Clean Your Room Or Else lecture, only with Thomas Jefferson glaring at you.
Fifth thing to work on together: Religious freedom. Well, here's an example of where the speech broke down, for me:
Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.
I totally believe that's a major issue. But I also think that nearly every effort in this speech to include specifics has felt awkward. Whoever wrote this speech wrote it a little too close to the State of the Union model in places, sprinkling the speech with lines that seem designed to inspire Congress, not the Arab world.
Sixth issue he wants to address: women's rights.
I know there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.
A distinctly female cheer from the crowd. I reject Obama's view that there's a "healthy debate" going on about women's equality. What's the other side of that healthy debate? (Apparently this was an ad-lib, or a late add, because "healthy" isn't included in the published text). I understand the fine line he's walking, and in general I think he handled this well, but... that line bugged me. Glad to hear that the U.S. is going to partner with Muslim majority countries to extend microfinancing for women.
Seventh issue: baseball. No, OK: Economic development and opportunity. In a way, it's daring to put this at the end of the speech, but really, it's been sprinkled throughout -- though perhaps it's my undeniable Americanism that makes me hear "prosperity" and think first of financial well-being. This is actually a well-constructed part of the speech, blending broad points with some slightly narrower specifics, and I wish it would have come earlier. But it's hard to imagine how anything knocks the ongoing wars out of this discussion, and to put women's rights last would've been a disaster.
The speech really got back in gear at the end, as did Obama himself. It's worth catching the video of this, but even just on the page, this ending pretty much soars:
It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.
The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."
The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."
The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.
So not bad, Mr. President. Now, let's see the follow-up on all seven points.
With that, I'm going to catch a little sleep. What'd everybody (anybody) else think?