Saturday, June 06, 2009

What The Rest Of The World Heard

Not surprisingly, President Obama's speech in Cairo was the focus of the majority of articles at Watching America, especially those articles from the Middle East press outlets. The range of opinions on what the US president said and what he meant was as wide outside the US as it was inside, and it is clear that international leaders are still poring over the speech, parsing each statement and even each word in order to discern the overall intention of the US with respect to that region.

The article that intrigued me the most was an editorial from Lebanon's Daily Star because it pointed out something I hadn't considered in my own analysis of the speech.

To measure the impact of such an innovative address, one even needs innovative tools, as well as time to digest it before completing the full evaluation. But we should remember the Cairo speech wasn't a show - it was an exercise in power politics of the first order. The credit here probably belongs to Rahm Emmanuel, Obama's chief of staff. Without Emmanuel, whose pro-Israeli sympathies can't be questioned, Obama wouldn't be taking on the pro-Israel lobby, whether on Palestine or Iran. Emmanuel has laid down a bruising challenge: come up with a better plan on these issues, or shut up.

Thus, Obama's speech wasn't a lightweight declaration of idealistic principles; it represented a country, through its innovative leader, speaking quietly and carrying a big stick.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, given the venue from which the speech was delivered, it was intended to be heard by the Islamic world, but it was also intended to be heard by Israel. If the speech was more than rhetoric and was actually an introduction to President Obama's new policy for the Middle East, and especially for Palestine, then it portends a shift in US attitudes, one, in the eyes of the editorialist, that should be welcomed by the Arab nations.

Obama emphasized the down side of global interdependence, meaning today's problems have real-world impact for many countries. Moreover, interdependence is a two-way street: people here are being asked to drop their misperceptions, just as America under Obama's leadership is prepared to drop its own misperceptions.

The focus on partnership isn't rhetoric; it has a real-world impact. If countries in the rest of the world step up to the plate, they will find that they have a role to play in these global battles.

It won't be a perfect symmetry of roles, since no one has the clout of the United States. But if the game is played correctly, having a positive role to play in a fair international system is an outcome we can live with. To get there, we need to keep ourselves oriented toward the new, and the innovative, and remember the contrast we saw in Cairo this week, one between a new politics of hope and interdependence, and the old politics of despair and disappointment.

While it is too early to tell just how serious President Obama is about this new approach to the Middle East region, he at least has sent out preliminary signals to Israel that the US will not just accept whatever that tiny nation which is tied so tightly to the US by history and by a powerful lobby decides to do or not do. He has called for an end to new settlements in the West Bank, a call that must be making Prime Minister Netanyahu apoplectic. That in itself is evidence of change, the kind of change that is so needed if the US is to return to the role of honest broker in the region.

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Blogger Terry C, An American Again! said...

Geez, and no bald head-rubbing anywhere.

5:56 PM  

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