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The Day After: Reaction to Obama’s Cairo Speech

June 5, 2009

David Brooks, New York Times:

This speech builds an idealistic facade on a realist structure. And this gets to the core Obama foreign-policy perplexity. The president wants to be an inspiring leader who rallies the masses. He also wants be a top-down realist who cuts deals in the palaces. There is a tension between these two impulses that even a sharp Chicago pol is having trouble managing.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post:

In his much-heralded “Muslim world” address in Cairo yesterday, Obama declared that the Palestinian people’s “situation” is “intolerable.” Indeed it is, the result of 60 years of Palestinian leadership that gave its people corruption, tyranny, religious intolerance and forced militarization; leadership that for three generations rejected every offer of independence and dignity, choosing destitution and despair rather than accept any settlement not accompanied by the extinction of Israel.

That’s why Haj Amin al-Husseini chose war rather than a two-state solution in 1947. Why Yasser Arafat turned down a Palestinian state in 2000. And why Abbas rejected Olmert’s even more generous December 2008 offer.

In the 16 years since the Oslo accords turned the West Bank and Gaza over to the Palestinians, their leaders built no roads, no courthouses, no hospitals, none of the fundamental state institutions that would relieve their people’s suffering. Instead they poured everything into an infrastructure of war and terror, all the while depositing billions (from gullible Western donors) into their Swiss bank accounts.

Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy:

President Obama’s speech today in Cairo met the bar he set for himself. In an address modeled after the Philadelphia speech on race, he forewent soaring oratory in favor of a thoughtful, nuanced and challenging reflection on America’s relations with the Muslims around the world (not “the Muslim world”, which for some reason became a major issue in American punditry over the last few days). As he frankly recognized, no one speech can overcome the many problems he addressed. But this speech is an essential starting point in a genuine conversation, a respectful dialogue on core issues. After the initial rush of instant commentaries and attempts to inflame controversy pass, it should become the foundation for a serious, ongoing conversation which could, as the President put it, “remake this world.”

Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly:

Iranian extremists like President Ahmadinejad will not be able to confront the Obama phenomenon head-on. For the Obama phenomenon is really that of America putting its best foot forward. Iran will have to make an accommodation with it. That fact alone indicates the brilliance of the Administration’s new Middle East diplomacy. He made no promises, and clearly indicated that “patience” would be required to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement through. But by putting his vision of Muslim world civilization in the context of what America has always fundamentally stood for, he leveraged hundreds of millions of Muslims against the much fewer number of extremists in their midst.

The Economist:

Will Mr Obama’s rousing oratory bear fruit? Many Muslims are still embittered by the legacy of the Bush years, which accumulated injuries ranging from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to scandalous treatment of Muslim prisoners and a perceived deepening of American bias towards a belligerent Israel. Opinion polls, which showed a drastic slide in American prestige, have nudged upwards under Mr Obama, with his own popularity far higher than that of the nation he represents.

Yet the constant refrain, heard on Cairo’s streets as well as from media pundits, is that Arabs and Muslims would like to see Mr Obama’s words matched by deeds. “To win our hearts, you must win our minds first, and our minds are set on the protection of our interests,” declared one of the reams of editorials, columns and open letters from across the region before Mr Obama spoke.

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