Thursday, June 04, 2009

Good speech

Barack Obama's Cairo speech did not have any major blunders. It was nearly the best defense and explanation of current US policies toward the Muslim world possible. US policies though were established to conform with US sensibilities and do not match nearly as well with the sensibilities of people in the Middle East. Because of that, even a very good explanation and defense of US policies points out the differences in approach, of sympathies and of values.

I want to go over his six issues.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

I'm taking "violent extremism" as a euphemism for terrorism. I'm not sure why he didn't use the word terrorism - except that by inventing his own phrase he gets to define it however he would like. So while violence intended to provoke terror in a civilian population is a definition that would fit numerous activities of the US and Israel, "violent extremism" can had implicitly has been defined as a phrase that only applies, in practical terms, to terrorism committed by Muslims against non-Muslims.

In Iran at least, with the recent spike in terrorist acts in regions bordering US-held territory, this section will seem very cynical. The resources used to organize and orchestrate the recently increased attacks against Iran come from somewhere, and the US and Israel are the most plausible sources.

Obama early in his campaign for president, promised to hold a conference with Muslim states to discuss the issue of terrorism. The problem that would have posed is that he would have given Muslims a voice in offering alternative definitions, examples and rationales for terrorism that would undercut US policy and go against US beliefs and sensibilities. I thought that promise itself made Obama unelectable at the time. He solved that problem by just forgetting about it.

But the way he frames the terrorism issue goes further in making an unspoken assertion that he or the US will define "violent extremism" in a way that the US finds comfortable and there will be no input from Muslims on the terms of discussion. This works well in Washington DC, but will be picked apart in Cairo and other majority Muslim cities.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

Possibly there is a plan being choreographed here. Possibly the intention is that US will pressure Netanyahu out of office and his successor will freeze settlement growth, after which Abbas will accept some formula on land presented to him by Obama. The Palestinians still have a right to reject the offer presented to Abbas, and there is at least a possibility that they will exercise that right, for the reason that the offer is insufficient to resolve their claims.

Obama insists that there will always be a Jewish state. He proposes that the claims of both Jews and non-Jews can be simultaneously fulfilled by the creation of a Palestinian state. There is at least a possibility that any state offered by the US and Israel to the Palestinians will not, in the opinion of the Palestinians, satisfy their claims. I say at least a possibility, because while Obama probably disagrees with me that it is impossible to both create a Palestinian state with enough sovereignty that Palestinians approve it and protect Israel's security, even he would have to admit that it is possible that such a Palestinian state will not be proposed.

If these claims turn out to be irreconcilable, then one side will have to win and the other lose. Obama proposes that Israel win. There must be a Jewish state and from there we'll do what we can to address Palestinian interests. A US president would be expected to make that proposal. Most people in the Middle East would make the opposite proposal. If it is impossible to respect the rights of the Palestinians and have a Jewish state at the same time in that territory, there should not be a Jewish state in that territory.

This fundamental disagreement between Obama and the US on one side and most Muslims on the other, is the ultimate cause of nearly the entire dispute between the West and the Muslim world and Obama has not, and cannot do anything to remove or resolve that disagreement.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

It is clear to me that Obama is willing to move away from the Bush policy of no domestic uranium enrichment for Iran. Depending on how far he is willing to move from that, this is an issue that can be easily resolved. We will not know what is possible until proposals become public.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

The US' enemies in the Middle East are, on balance, more democratic, and have shown a greater capacity to relinquish power when they lose elections than the US' allies. This just seems like cynical hypocrisy. Just standing in front of the Muslim world and directly lying. Giving the speech in a country run by an unpopular US stooge and beyond making vague flowery pronouncements about how democracy is a god given right, or something, he actually says there are groups that once in office repress the opposition.

Israel calculated the amount of Hamas legistlators it would require to end the Hamas majority and and captured that amount of Palestinian elected politicians, who are now in Israeli jails, for the crime of getting too many votes. Because Israel's security is of paramount importance to the United States, the US under Obama refuses to even acknowledge this affront to the ideal of democracy.

It would have been better not to even give a speech that mentions democracy than to act as if the groups he supports are not the most egregiously anti-democratic forces in the region.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Here Obama comes down on the Muslim side against those in France and Turkey who ban or discourage the wearing of Muslim clothing. That is an unambiguously good thing, but a small thing.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

This is not really a matter of contention between the US and the Muslim world. This section didn't help or hurt much.

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