Orbital Matters

Saturn Smith
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JUNE 4, 2009 7:31AM

The Cairo Speech: A Lonely Little Live Blog

Rate: 13 Flag

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? 

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Sounds like a great effort. Will be unsatisfying to the Muslim world (and no doubt they will find reasons to be offended), and ditto for Republicans in the U.S.

Hopefully it will serve to get the logjam moving a bit.

Especially hopeful to see both Palestine and Israel put on notice.

I'd have liked to see an announcement of immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and the payment of reparations - but idealism just doesn't fly. What Obama is doing, while it's one of those 'compromise' things, does seem like something new and fresh. If it 'fails', well, it's not as if the efforts of previous administrations worked out well... At least he's trying...

I hate all that religious crap, but it's the way you gotta talk to some people (the 'Muslim world' and the republicans back home).
I did not hear the speech, and have so far only been able to read the texts. But I thought Obama did an incredible job inserting some cracks into the hate speech of extremists on all sides - respectfully focusing on the theme of peace that united the three major religions, and the desire for justice, equality, and safety as basic human rights. There were several simple, clear statements that I felt were very powerful: "It's a story with a simple truth: that 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."

The sections promoting positive images of both US democracy and the Muslim world may have been a bit simplistic and academic, but I think they still needed to be spoken aloud, in particular the idea that neither Muslims nor Americans should be viewed as a "crude stereotype." This won't reach the hardliners, but I think it has a chance of positively influencing the conversation of the moderates.

I agree, Saturn - the ending soars. It was powerful enough that I sat in front of my computer and read it out loud. If words really do have the power to set a tone, to change a course in the direction of respect and peace, these are words that just might achieve it.
I did not see speech but read the text. I think it was a typical Obama speech: very very good. Hard not to tear up at the end. Being a guy who is about actions, not words, I, too, want to see our country followup appropriately. That will be a slow but important process.

I think he said plenty to give Limbaugh/Beck/O'Reilley fodder to claim he was 'apologizing' and of course, we need never apologize because we are America. They will go fricking nuts and everyone should stay away from Fox for a few days (LOVED your Cheney tivo comment!!).

Personally, I would have liked to see a more direct apology for both Iraq and the overthrow of Iran (then again, I think we owe an apology to much of Central America as well). I suppose that realistically there is only so far we can go with apologies or he would still be speaking.....

I think his words to the Palestinians were easy; but we can not underestimate the shift (in at least rhetoric) towards Israel. That was huge and is definitely something to watch. He has said this more privately to both parties, to say it in this sort of setting is a much bigger deal.

We elected this guy knowing the 'cowboy unilateralist' days were over and he is showing us exactly that. He was playing to a much bigger audience here (the world). Limbaugh/Beck/O'Reilley won't get that, but they are pinheads anyway. The speech showed our continued shift from the past. Things don't change overnight, but if we have actions to support these words, then we are on the road.

Today, I am hopeful.
I haven't seen or read the speech yet, but I was alerted to Taylor Marsh's reaction to it via Twitter, just as I was to this post, too.

Marsh had some harsh words for him.

I included some of them in a comment on my own post about the non-existent gender gap in math ability.

I don't completely agree with Marsh's conclusion, though... that Literacy must wait.

Saturn, you are a hard-working political-blogging wonk, and I mean that in the very best sense. Thanks for the preview/reaction.
More flowery rhetoric. It will change nothing. History says so.
Not so bad? Sigh. Witness the healing of the world begin, react unimpressed and wishing it was too far left so the healing wouldn't work, but would be more palatible to the type of thinking that got us here.


Just saving the world, that s all.

I have problems with some portions of his speech, including the comment about "healthy debate" concerning women's rights that you mention. I also don't feel that he was hard enough on Israel, although this can be death for any politician and am not sure that any American president, with the whole question about punishment for torturers still in the air, has much moral credibility when it comes to questions of human rights. I still haven't ventured to watch the whole speech myself but I do think him very brave (and smart) to admit to American culpability in the cases of Iran and Iraq - it is going to get him in trouble with the right. But it is something America must do more of if we are to repair our relationships in the world.
Thanks for the detailed access to the written text and to the live speech!

I don't have much to say, except that the glove of peace and reconciliation has been brilliantly extended. I just hope that he gets back alive.

Now, I'm gonna watch Lou Dobbs, O'Reilly, and the rest of the sour grapes crowd to see which of their contortions are the most entertaining.
He is embracing countries who treat women like slaves. Telling them it's his opinion that they are just as moral and righteous as the U.S. Well, he's not alone in that opinion. On most of the planet today, women are oppressed and degraded. As usual, women are thrown under the bus.
"More flowery rhetoric. It will change nothing. History says so."

How do you stand getting up in the morning man? So MUCH negativity...We all know what history says but no one, not even you and Gordon O know the future...
Decent speak when considering the audience. I think a very effective follow up would be to point out the negative response that came from Iran. It is in their (leadership)best interest to keep the U.S. as a boogeyman and the contempt must be challenged.
Thanks for making me spit up my sunkist when I read: Seventh issue: baseball.
It's what I'm here for, Glenn.
I've been looking for time to see the whole speech, but I wanted to note that I appreciated having your little summary here when I was watching scattered bits of news coverage today, so I don't feel like I missed so much and everything seemed in proper context.
This is what I meant to say. He articulated it better than me. By Tom Harnden, US Editor of the London Telegraph:

"The U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it. 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."

Probably the worst passage of all. By highlighting the most superficial aspect of women's rights is the Muslim world, Obama dramatically underplayed the oppression women face. It's not people in the West who believe women who cover their hair are less equal, it's countries in the Middle East that dictate that all women are less equal. From the Left, Peter Daou, who grew up in west Beirut, rails against the weakness of Obama's stance on human rights: "With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab?" From the Right, Stephen Hayes, points out: "In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive. In Iran, they're stoned on suspicion of adultery. In Pakistan, politicians publicly defend 'honor killings' of young girls who have the audacity to choose their own husbands."

Saturn, Michelle and his daughters did not go with him because they'd have NO RIGHTS and have to wear head coverings & all of that. So instead, they are meeting up with him in Paris. So no, we are not all equal. And he is a hypocrite for stating that.
This is very distressing to be addressing the Men only in Muslim countries who treat women like dogs and telling them they are morally our equals.
"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."

But that's the only way mutual grudges are buried. Only when both sides say "yes, I admit I did X, and fully understand why X pissed you off. You then did Y, you admit this and understand the offense? Good. Let's pledge to be more cognizant of our mutual need to get along with dignity, and not do X, Y, or Z to each other. Deal? Shake. Now leave me the fuck alone and let us get used to one another in quiet :-) )