Saturday, March 28, 2009

Obama's Speech in Muslim Capital

Barack Obama has promised to make a major speech in a Muslim-majority country in his first 100 days in office, which would mean April or May.

The easiest and safest bet will be that the speech will be comparable to the Nowruz speech, speaking vaguely and in general about respect, ideals such as democracy, opposition to terrorism and peace with neighbors (implying but not openly saying Israel).

He'll go as far as to endorse what he'll describe as a "just two state solution" to the dispute between Zionism and the Palestinians, then he may go further than most American public officials go, essentially to the limit of allowable discourse on the Palestinian issue by a United States politician, by saying he expects Israel to make sacrifices to bring this two state solution about.

For the US' sake I hope he does not go much deeper into the subject of Israel than that. Americans generally do not understand how far out of step their views on Israel are in the region. I have not seen any indication that Obama is significantly more self-aware than other American leaders. While we are safe in expecting there will be no Condoleeza Rice "Birth Pangs" moment in the speech, any full throated defense of Zionism or Israel will play into the hands of Bin Laden and Ahmadinejad.

There will likely be something like "we should move beyond the injustices of the past" which begins to be offensive as there are refugees and an occupation today and a recent mass killing of civilians in Gaza. He may go further and discuss "supposed injustices" instead of injustices, which would be worse. Pretty much from there, the more detail in which he states his or the US' positions on Israel, the more irreconcilable the country he represents will appear to be.

Bush had the luxury that it was widely understood that representative Americans are more moderate than he is. Obama does not, Obama is correctly understood to be the most balanced politician on the Middle East that the United States is for now capable of producing.

His problem is that in truth, his positions are not fundamentally different from George Bush's. The danger of speaking specifically about the disputes between the US and the Muslim world is that he will unwittingly prove hard-liners right that the United States is a country of vulgar and less vulgar people who think like Bush.

Most likely that won't happen. Most likely we'll get a nice, sufficiently vague speech that will be moderately well received but will not change the degree of opposition to the US in the region.

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