8 a.m. ET: Before much of Washington was even awake this morning, President Obama had already stirred controversy on the other side of the world, delivering a much-anticipated address in Cairo that touched on everything from Israel and Iran to women's rights and his own Muslim roots. Fittingly for a speech that ranged so widely, initial reactions have been all over the map.
Obama said he came to Cairo "to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition."
The New York Times says Obama "delivered a sweeping message that was forceful and, at times, scolding." Tweeting from Cairo, Howard Schneider writes: "Halftime analysis from the crowd: lets see how he implements it." The Wall Street Journal writes Obama was "shrewd" to include a passage on women's rights, "noteworthy coming from the father of two girls." Obama got a standing ovation at the end, and Christiane Amanpour called the speech "a continuation of President Obama's detente" with the Muslim world.
Inviting mockery from some quarters, Obama cited his own background: "I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith." Mike Allen calls the comments "by far the most extensive he has made about his Muslim roots." Haaretz noted Obama's "blunt repudiation of Israel's settlement enterprise in the West Bank, an issue that has strained Washington's ties with Jerusalem."
Obama also came close to apologizing for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a move that will certainly play badly in some ideological circles. "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," Obama said. Also playing badly, to Michael Rubin on The Corner, is Obama's studious avoidance of the word "terrorism."
"No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust," Obama said. And it does seem that expectations were such that the president couldn't possible change millions of minds with his words this morning. Speaking to Egyptians, the New York Times reports "all the polish and all the excitement will fade shortly after Air Force One lifts off, most people here say, if nothing changes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." The New Republic's Michael Crowley spoke to an Egyptian dissident who called Obama's failure to push harder for democracy in the country "a huge disappointment, not only from Egypt's perspective but for reformers all over the world. It's not in line with what he promised during the campaign, or with his inaugural speech on January 20."
Obama's arrival in Saudi Arabia yesterday came as new audiotapes purportedly of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri were released condemning the U.S. president and claiming his policies are a repeat of his predecessor's. The administration argues the tapes are evidence that al Qaeda feels threatened by Obama. Putting aside whether American policies have changed, the impact of such recordings certainly have. It wasn't long ago that a new Bin Laden tape would have warranted wall-to-wall news coverage. Yesterday it was noted, but never became the focus of the day.
June 4, 2009; 8:02 AM ET
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