Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Speech

Over the past two weeks, I have proven to be a most felicitous host for a succession of cold viruses. Good for them. Bad for blogging. But some light appears to be glimmering at the end of the tunnel (and with precious little time to spare, as I'll be off to my first taste of New Orleans to celebrate a momentous birthday for a good friend next week-end) .

I've been poring over the text of President Obama's speech in Cairo this past Thursday, and over the voluminous commentary across the political spectrum. I have found much that I (rather unexpectedly) liked about Obama's address. He told some hard truths to an audience which was none-too favorably disposed to hear them. He expressed some worthy sentiments, which were not entirely devoid of specific content. Were I in a more energetic place right now, I might undertake a point-by-point analysis of his words and their import. Alas, I am in no such place (paging Mr. Hengist....).

Rich Moran, over at Pajamas Media comes the closest to mirroring my impressions of the speech, and I encourage you to read over his remarks.

One bit which Moran omits was an aspect of the speech which rankled me the most: Obama's seeming equivalence between the Holocaust and the plight of the "Palestinians" and their dislocation and "occupation." That simply will not do. Now, I know that the raw content of Obama's words do not comprise a perfect symmetry between the two experiences: of the Jews he spoke of enslavement, torture, gassing and shooting, whereas for the "Palestinians" he spoke of dislocation, humiliation, and waiting in refugee camps (though he made no mention of the multitude of opportunities they have had --and spurned-- for that purportedly-longed-for homeland, nor of the extent to which they have been given no succor by neighboring Arab people who have been all-too eager to use their suffering as a political and ideological football). Still, by positing that particular parallelism, he pandered to the baseless and pernicious moral equivalence which many in his audience take as a matter of course.

Many have also commented on Obama's failure to include Israel in his list of destinations, fearing that it was emblematic of a worrisome cooling trend in this Administration's approach to our staunchest ally in the region. Actually, this does not bother me overmuch; Obama's intent was to address the Islamic world, and his trip was designed to signal a new kind of engagement with that world. A layover in the midst of the "Zionist Entity" would muddy the message. I get that.

Also, Obama's forthright and refreshingly forceful rebuke of Holocaust denial, and clear statement of the "unbreakable" bond between the US and Israel struck the right note (and was predictably greeted with crickets from the audience), and he cannily walked the talk by traveling --the very next day-- to Buchenwald, where he re-iterated his stance on the deniers of history (this time specifically mentioning Iranian president Ahmadinejad, and challenging him to walk among the haunted ruins himself. Nice touch, that). Indeed, I find myself wondering if his stinging words for the Iranian president might not have been crafted to send a subtextual message to the Sunni majority that he is not a creature of the Shiites (particularly with the US' support of the Shiite administration in Iraq featuring in some of the paranoia in the region).

No one believes that the speech is to be the final word on these matters, and it is hoped that subsequent statements (and, far more importantly, actions) will address many of the lingering questions which it raised. It was a flawed and airy treatment of grave and complex matters, but it was arguably a thing worth undertaking, and was not altogether devoid of merit.

1 comment:

Mr.Hengist said...

Oh, I won't be doing a point-by-point analysis of this Big! Important! Middle East speech. From what analysis I've read of the speech - and I haven't wasted any of my time on the speech itself - POTUS Obama said nothing egreriously wrong and I've never been strongly inclined to focus on the significance of what was not talked about.
Short of pulling the rug out from beneath Israel, there's not much for a POTUS to do when it comes to achieving resolution to this issue. That is to say, the U.S. has some leverage over Israel and less so over the other countries and parties involved, but I consider those other countries and parties to be the real problem. We may succeed in bringing all the interested parties to the negotiating table but there's little to be done.
The hostility of Israel's neighbors is predicated on hatred which is cultivated by their ruling political and religious classes as a diversion from their own massive societal problems. It's no wonder this conflict has dragged on for so long; only one party has an interest in a peaceful resolution.
So, short of a major policy shift or a regrettable gaffe, there's little forward progress for a POTUS to make, and as such I can't work up any interest in yet another speech by yet another POTUS on this festering political malady.