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Obama's Preamble in Cairo

The Cairo speech was the classic Obama: Let us talk honestly about our differences; let us respect each other; let us find the common ground on which we can solve problems.

This theme -- that honest dialogue can solve hard issues -- is at the core of all the major speeches Obama has given: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright speech during the campaign, the Notre Dame speech that discussed abortion, the contra-Cheney speech on national security. It’s the most powerful but also most nebulous aspect of his presidency. This is pure idealism: the conviction that ideas, openly expressed, change history.

“We must say openly the things we hold in our hearts,” Obama proclaimed. And then he proceeded to say them -- too many of them, in my view. By the time he’d spoken from the heart about nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights and economic development, there was a hint of the laundry list -- the dutiful nod in every direction. This was a case in which Obama might have been wiser to embrace the adage: Less is more.

Obama has the greatest chance of any president in my lifetime to alter the poisonous status quo in the Middle East -- and to ally American foreign policy with what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls “the global political awakening.” Obama has embarked boldly on that effort, and he continued the momentum in Cairo. The hype for this speech had been so great that he couldn’t possibly have met expectations. But his words surely didn’t set the process back.

The Cairo speech is really preamble: This new president has the bit in his teeth. The son and grandson of Muslims proposes to heal what was widely called, just a few years and hours ago, “the clash of civilizations.” Honest talk is a start, but no more than that. Obama has the Muslim world’s attention, for sure. But they’re asking today, as the speech plays on every television and radio channel from Casablanca to Katmandu: What comes next?

An addendum: I’m sorry to sound cynical, but I thought Obama overdid the Koran quotations, as Christian American politicians in general tend to do these days. I breakfasted this morning with an Arab friend who recalled how a particular Lebanese Christian politician had memorized the Koran and quoted it, at length, to his Muslim colleagues…who were not impressed so much as quizzical. Who is this man to tell us what the Koran says?

By David Ignatius  | June 4, 2009; 10:26 AM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Comments

Again and again Mr Obama stands before crowds wearing rose colored glasses and shares what his world wide mind's eye envisions .....He draws from his family heritage , hoping to impress and maybe sway, yet forgets the crowd knows his own father renounced the Muslim faith... I think saying to humanity , "Can't we all just get along " is getting a lil old ... Just once I'd like to hear him publicly expound on his 1960's lyrical recipe for universal love. Maybe then , the mountain will start to come to Muhammad.

Posted by: Spartann | June 4, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

In an address aimed at Moslems around the world, given at an Egyptian university, and treating the need for forthright talk about the toughest issues between the West and the Arab worlds, the rampancy of a fractional Muslim minority preaching and practicing terrorism (often with grotesquely distorted Koranic justification), and the special urgency of bridging age-old religious strife, is it excessive for President Obama, the son of a Moslem, to quote the Koran four times to underscore his main points?

Posted by: TomGrubisich | June 4, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Ignatius, let me just add a little on two points. NO, the "laundry list" was NOT too much -- people all over the world were waiting to hear him at least mention each of those critical issues, and he needed to touch on them enough to position himself on each one. And NO, the Qur'an quotations were not excessive or inappropriate. I've already heard from friends in Cairo who report that tears sprang to their eyes to hear an American president use the words of their holy book with understanding and approval, not as proof-texts or the object of distortion & scorn.

It was a brilliantly crafted, subtle and historic speech. There are many "green shoots" there that could grow into significant change.

Posted by: Nan72 | June 4, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I agree that there was too much said about too many things. That also allows a "cop out" response because the target audience can say we did and thus we are cooperating. But the "rest" must wait. Pres. Obama's approach is becoming all too familiar. Give the media something to praise him but really do not say anything that would be cause for concern from the opposite side. Most of what I heard could have been said by a college Junior/Senior majoring in Sociology or International Studies.

Posted by: fcrucian | June 4, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

"Most of what I heard could have been said by a college Junior/Senior majoring in Sociology or International Studies.
Posted by: fcrucian"

Yep.

Posted by: veritasintco | June 4, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

"I breakfasted this morning with an Arab friend who recalled how a particular Lebanese Christian politician had memorized the Koran and quoted it, at length, to his Muslim colleagues…who were not impressed so much as quizzical. Who is this man to tell us what the Koran says?"

Who says your Arab friend is the barometer of millions of people? Some may feel it shows respect.

"I chatted with a cabbie from Jordan who said it was a wonderful speech" is just as valid.

Posted by: washingtonpost8 | June 4, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to blame Obama for actually trying to make things better.

Posted by: postfan1 | June 4, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

For the Obama speech to Islam, from an American Republican to you Gays, Lesbians and Women that I truly love and cherish your rights, and I mean love and enjoy with this only one life I live so much, under equal as Obama perscribes islam, hang 'um, hang 'um, and cover 'um up. I have fought all my life not to let this happen, but you choose your future. Please be careful. This is not a hate memo, but a Love memo.

Posted by: calvin3 | June 4, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

It is well past time for the Israelis to return the lands and natural resources that they have usurped for more than 60 years. That they have been able to do due to our blind eye to fairness and common human decency toward the Palestinians is almost too much to bear. If the United States is to have a shred of credibility left, it must inform the Israelis that they must leave the occupied territories at once or risk losing our financial as well as moral support. It is time to tell the American people the truth about this "crisis" regardless of whether AIPAC likes it.

Posted by: lobewiper | June 4, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

What do the Kafir children being ground by Islam around the world think of Obama's words?
http://thenews.jang.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=181341
In today's Pakistani newspaper:
Friday, June 05, 2009
The report that the Taliban in Bara have imposed jiziya on non-Muslims should be a cause for concern especially given that the said area is a mere 10 kilometres or so from Peshawar.
M Shafee Afridi

American Presidents used to stand for freedom and Equality around the world. No more. Now
"And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear." -- Barack Obama, Cairo, June 4, 2009

I wonder what a copt child in egypt thinks of Obama. I wonder what a sikh child in Pakistan thinks of Obama. I wonder what a chrisitian child thinks of Obama in Iraq.

Posted by: AKafir | June 4, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

I suspect that Obama might be cut a little slack, because, unlike in Lebanon there is some political risk for an American politician who cites verses from the Koran. In Lebanon Christians are in the minority, so the move could be seen as a case of pandering. It might be seen as insincere.

Many were shocked overseas -- as here in the U.S. -- based on the simple fact that a president named Barack HUSSEIN Obama could win the U.S. presidency. The name was an issue. So the fact that he makes the citations from the Koran are not risk free in terms of his political career. His outreach will have a domestic political cost and cost him -- even if it's largely on the margins amongst a group that is already strongly inclined not to like him.

The simple fact that an American president makes a serious effort to bridge a deep cultural divide and pulls it off is probably enough -- especially given that it's a long overdue first; especially in light of the painful Cold War history between the U.S. and the Middle East.

Another way to look at this: Did Texans reject W. based on the fact that he aped the local accent and garb late in his adulthood? At first yes, but in time, he was treated as part of the family. Even though he came from a blue-blood family with deep roots in the northeast; and even though he didn't really incorporate the local accent until his late adulthood; even though it was partly an act -- people didn't begrudge him for trying.

Posted by: JPRS | June 4, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse

The President's myopia in kissing Islamic butt is no different that Neville Chamberlain kissing Hitler's. Why no speeches to the Hindus? Why no speeches to the Buddhists? Why kiss Islamic butt? Because they are the thugs who are screaming for attention. Islam...you want respect...give respect. You want to talk...stop killing and start talking. East Timor, Mindonoro, Kashmir, Darfur, Holland...this is the Islamic legacy the non-muslim world sees. What does Joe America think? Screw you...and the horse you rode in on. Take your screedy holy book and beat it. Islam...a religion of peace? Ha...only if you're a moslem. If not then it's at best an invitaiton to theocratic sanctioned slavery...at worst a death sentence.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | June 4, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

"Obama has the greatest chance of any president in my lifetime to alter the poisonous status quo in the Middle East..."

Why? What, in your opinionm makes him so special?

Posted by: JD15 | June 4, 2009 10:30 PM | Report abuse

JD15 writes:
"'Obama has the greatest chance of any president in my lifetime to alter the poisonous status quo in the Middle East...'

Why? What, in your opinionm makes him so special?"
----------------------------
This particular president is viewed in a positive light by a large number of folks living in the mideast, from a number of religions. That hasn't happened in a long time, and in the political world, positive feelings are bankable currency.

Posted by: iamweaver | June 4, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Our Prez is bordering on naivete....I wonder, as he stood before a room crowded with folks still in their PJs....did he think the mirage was real or not ???

Their applause was deafening when Obama praised them and their beliefs , or when he kicked sand in the faces of Americans....However, you could have heard a pin drop when he mentioned anything about Israel...

Im sure they all went to Star Buck's afterwards and discussed what was said......... " yeah right"...

I'll tell you who didn't miss one word , and who's discussing and parsing even the semi colons of the speech...yeap you got it, Bebe in Tel Aviv.....Im sure "ostrich" came to mind half way through Barack's rhapsody in the sand ...

Just like at the Press Club in DC, Cairo University gives a souvenir mug to every speaker ...The inscription reads " Arabs never miss and opportunity to miss an opportunity".

Posted by: Spartann | June 4, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Naive is thinking that "purple fingers" equals "stable democracy".

Naive is thinking that statements like "Bring it On!" intimidate enemies; encourage the support of allies; and keep Americans safe.

Naive is thinking that invading Iraq inevitably leads to the flowering of democratic states friendly to U.S.'s interests and Israel.

Naive was thinking that we would be greeted as liberators in a country that did not attack us. Naive was thinking that an invasion of Iraq would be cheap and that the costs of reconstruction would be "self-financing". Naive was thinking that the invasion of Iraq would endear the U.S. to Middle Eastern peoples and not create greater animosity.

Naive is making assumptions about a region based on a comic book understanding of the world.

To his credit, Obama shows some nuance in his thinking. He also has the unique vantage point of having seen the world through the eyes of a normal traveler first -- rather than through the eyes of a privileged statesmen who only deals with other privileged statesmen.

To an adept listener, Obama never kicked sand in the U.S.'s eyes. He made a strong case for the U.S.'s ideals, but he provided a robust enough picture to lend his claims credibility. We have not always lived up to our ideals -- this is simply a statement of reality.

When he talked about U.S. interference in the democratic process in Iran in 1953 he was simply stating a fact. When he talked about the Holocaust and the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and the Palestinians he was simply stating the obvious. Yet, he was the first American president to present a view that included both the good and the bad. He made the kind of speech that you might expect a politician to make to a skeptical, but receptive audience. He showed respect for the intelligence of his audience.

Posted by: JPRS | June 5, 2009 12:41 AM | Report abuse

The strange thing is that virtually all American governments and analysts have assumed that the eventual outcome will include Israel's retention of settlement blocks near Jerusalem, the Ariel Block, Ma'aale Adumim, etc, a divided Jerusalem, only a limited right of return and some land in what is now Israel to the Palestinians. The question therefore is whether Clinton essentially is reneging on plan proposed by her husband as described by Dennis Ross in "The Missing Peace."
Moreover, Mr. Ignatius, an insightful observer, fails to note that the Palestinians have never , ever agreed in a true two-state solution -- a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state. Erekat and Abbas have also included a full right of return of Palestinians in the definition of a two-state solution and have rarely been questioned by the press on that score. President Obama told NPR that he would be honest with his friends - telling the Israelis to stop the settlements, yet he has failed utterly to be honest with the Palestinians by telling them to forsake the idea of a "Greater Palestine" and by requiring them to admit that Jews did not show up in the Middle East only after the Holocaust, but lived in Jerusalem, Safed, etc. for centuries. Such "honesty" would have not gone over well in Cairo, where newspaper regularly contain anti-Semitic (not simply anti-Israel) material.

Posted by: thom714 | June 5, 2009 3:03 AM | Report abuse

No, the Obama speech did the reverse of talking honestly about our differences.

When an American president, and a black no less, delivers 6000 words to an audience in Egypt, which never mentions the 300,000 black Africans who continue to be slaughtered, and 3 million ethnically cleansed, next door in Sudan, by the brethren of that Arab assemblage in Cairo, that is not a speech about the truth, or US core values, or our differences.

That was about flattering the Arabs, telling them what they want to hear, and abandoning the victims of today's greatest human tragedy, to their brutal violators.

It was a disgraceful and cowardly and shamed our country.

David Ignatius has neither a head or a heart. Nor have nine tenths of the posters on these boards.

Posted by: nacllcan | June 5, 2009 5:02 AM | Report abuse

For once you sort of let the cat out of the bag, I suspect.

Are you an apologist for AIPAC lobby in beltway - can't stand the even handedness with which BHO deals with Israel and its Arab neighbours, and, specially Palestine?

Yesterday, in Dresden, he was along side with Merkel and Jews who were prisoners of Buchenwald.

That was a symbol which speaks more than words about Shoah!

BHO is a product of his environment and learning which included R Neighbuhr and (I suspect) F Nietsche. He is a student of history. And history of ideas....

He didn't bite more than he could chew in Cairo speech, methinks, from the generous and introspective Arab/Muslim reaction on the streets. Even Israeli's granted him the laudaciation.

Bottomline - which even you don't seem to understand - is that Isreal's *free ride* is finally over with this young President.

Better still would be to cut off the annual USD 3billon dollar *grant* to its military establishment (IDF).

Peace in the biblical land will not be easy to come. But it will most likley come under this son-of-a-Muslim and POUS.

Posted by: hariknaidu | June 6, 2009 4:23 AM | Report abuse

You can criticise Obama from here till kingdom come but, the fact of the matter is that Obama had courageously broke the mould and inspired hope among his audience.
What is more is that unlike other politician, Obama ease, confidence and body language inspired faith in the man and in what he had to say about the issues he covered in his speech and the road map he set forward.
Yes, we had the cynics on all sides who didn’t like what Obama had to say, but that is an inevitable outcome in a widely diverse audience across the world. What ultimately matters is how the majority have received the speech, and judging from the reaction so far one can confidently say that at least he was given the benefit of the doubt.
Obama is not that naïve to expect that his speech will be welcomed by everyone and eradicate the hatred and mistrust at a stroke, but to generate enough goodwill among men of reason, and that what he got. As you said, this is a preamble, a road map that will guide the way forward.
Having said that, the sense of hope he inspired put a heavy burden on Obama to deliver, and show determination in pursuit of the set objective. Deeds are of the essence, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating otherwise, all this goodwill will evaporate into thin air.
Ezzat Tamimi-London

Posted by: iztamimi | June 6, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

You can criticise Obama from here till kingdom come but, the fact of the matter is that Obama had courageously broke the mould and inspired hope among his audience.
What is more is that unlike other politician, Obama ease, confidence and body language inspired faith in the man and in what he had to say about the issues he covered in his speech and the road map he set forward.
Yes, we had the cynics on all sides who didn’t like what Obama had to say, but that is an inevitable outcome in a widely diverse audience across the world. What ultimately matters is how the majority have received the speech, and judging from the reaction so far one can confidently say that at least he was given the benefit of the doubt.
Obama is not that naïve to expect that his speech will be welcomed by everyone and eradicate the hatred and mistrust at a stroke, but to generate enough goodwill among men of reason, and that what he got. As you said, this is a preamble, a road map that will guide the way forward.
Having said that, the sense of hope he inspired put a heavy burden on Obama to deliver, and show determination in pursuit of the set objective. Deeds are of the essence, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating otherwise, all this goodwill will evaporate into thin air.
Ezzat Tamimi-London

Posted by: iztamimi | June 6, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Obama's speech in Cairo will not instantly alter anything but he clearly laid down with no equivocation the opportunities that exist today. It may not please many in Israel, Iran, Osama's team, Fox News, or skeptical Arabs but in truth isn't it the truth?

Sure, it's idealistic but also true that the world can continue to argue and fight over the same old tired paradigms or start to look at the future from new perspectives.

Personally, I don't expect peace in the Middle East anytime soon but it won't be because Obama had the wrong approach. It will result from old tired opinion makers and "leaders" who refuse to seek solutions by defining common ground and feast on the same old worn out differences.

Old ideas die hard and probably won't disappear until a generation or two of us are dead and gone but if newer generations start to look with new eyes, maybe, just maybe the future can be better for all. I'm personally pleased that a leader like Obama today understands that truth and expressed it clearly in Cairo.

Posted by: TomMiller1 | June 6, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I wonder what makes some members of the Jewish community think that American president has live up to their expectation and theirs alone.
For God sake, Obama is the president of the United States. His first and foremost priority is to protect and promote the interest of the United States above all else.
Obama could not have been more explicit about US commitment to the security of Israel, what more do you want?
Obama was honest on matters where most his predecessor had not been; “Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal”. How could you argue with that?
The whole world accepts that fact. If you do not want to accept that, then tough luck and you do so your detriment.
Why should America compromise its interest, its moral integrity and its credibility defying international law just because you insist to be out laws?
Friends do not undermine each other interest, but it can be argued that Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians is the core of all America’s problems in the Middle East.
If you are friend of America, then it is about time that you show some consideration for its interest.

Posted by: iztamimi | June 6, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

"Most of what I heard could have been said by a college Junior/Senior majoring in Sociology or International Studies.
Posted by: fcrucian"

Yes, it could have been but it wasn't. I was said by the President of the US. No previous president ever addressed the Muslim world with intelligence, honesty and sincerity.

Posted by: timothy2me | June 6, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

President Obama's quotations from the Quran were positive and in the right context and his Muslim audiences appreciated them.

It is just what they wanted to hear; BUT what is more important is what he does to back up his words.

Posted by: asizk | June 6, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Obama administration opens door for Iran's uranium enrichment program!!!

Coward liar Barack HUSSEIN Obama "Apologist in chief", how can he keep his nonsense promise during his campaign, that is, negotiating with U.S. enemies such as North Korea and Iran, which have never respected any treaty with U.S., when North Korea just launched many missile and nuclear tests and illegally arrested two American journalists Laura Ling and Eunu Lee, while Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an extremist who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and denied the holocaust, again defied U.S. and Europe with his racist hate speech against Israel at a U.N. anti-racism conference? Is Obama going to bow to Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejas as he did to King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia to gain his peace deals? Is he willing to convert to Islam, his Kenyan father and Indonesian step father's religion, to meet Osam Bin Laden's requirement that in order to end the Iraq war, U.S. troop withdrawal is not enough, Americans must reject their democratic system and embrace Islam? Just recently, Obama said that he would support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections, giving a green light to Teheran's ambituous uranium enrichment program, which can be used for nuclear bomb development as well, without suffering sanctions and economic isolation as it currently endures. Does Obama want Iran to become another North Korea using its nuclear power to terrorize the U.S and its allies?
As for waterboarding tactic used by CIA, Obama ordered to stop it even it worked well on terrorist suspects like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-describer planner of 9-11 attacks who provided CIA with valuable information, preventing another 9-11 attack and saving thousands of American lives.

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | June 6, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Most every action he takes and words he speaks weakens our nation. He speaks for Obama not America. Our Brave New World President will solve nothing in the middle east.

Posted by: spmackin | June 6, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Quotations from the Quran must have reminded to all Muslims that even christian president from America can challange the extrimists who invert the quranic verses. It is about time that Obama challanges not through the gun, but through diplomacy even if quoting from Quran would help bring sanity to the ruthless extremists who believe that its thier duty to bring thier own version of Islam to the north pole. So it was the perfect sura and perfect time to say that Islam believes co-existance and not co-alqeada.


Xumaandiid

Xumaandiid

Posted by: xumaandiid | June 7, 2009 12:40 AM | Report abuse

Yes xumaandiid, Obama might well have offered his Cairo audience other phrases and sayings form the Koran. For example, Sura 17:

"Pharoah sought to scare them [the Israelites] out of the land [of Israel]: but We [Allah] drowned him [Pharoah] together with all who were with him. Then We [Allah] said to the Israelites: 'Dwell in this land [the Land of Israel]. When the promise of the hereafter [End of Days] comes to be fulfilled, We [Allah] shall assemble you [the Israelites] all together [in the Land of Israel]."

"We [Allah] have revealed the Qur'an with the truth, and with the truth it has come down. We have sent you [Muhammed] forth only to proclaim good news and to give warning."

[Qur'an, "Night Journey," chapter 17:100-104]

Posted by: nacllcan | June 7, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

fcrucian says:

"I agree that there was too much said about too many things.... Give the media something to praise him but really do not say anything that would be cause for concern from the opposite side."

Say too much, say too little. There's just no pleasing some people.

Posted by: LifeBeforePrinciple | June 11, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

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