My quick assessment of President Obama’s Cairo speech of June 4 appears (with fifteen other expert assessments) at Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH), and is reproduced here at Sandbox.
“Peoples of Egypt, you will be told that I have come to destroy your religion; do not believe it! Reply that I have come to restore your rights, to punish the usurpers, and that I respect more than the Mamluks God, His Prophet, and the Quran.” So spoke Bonaparte when he arrived in Egypt, in a proclamation of July 2, 1798. Substitute “Islam” for Egypt, “we Americans” for I, and “violent extremists” for the Mamluks, and you’ve got the core message of President Obama’s speech.
It’s a very old drill in the annals of “public diplomacy.” Supplementary gestures help. Obama was careful to pronounce the word Quran with the guttural qaf of the Arabic. (Too bad, though, he botched the word hijab.) Unless you’re converting, you can’t say Ich bin ein Muslim, so you come as close as you can. (Barack Hussein Obama—can we finally use his middle name now?—gets closer than most.) Some Muslims are wise to this, and so presumably they will discount it. But the great majority? Who doesn’t love pandering?
I leave it to others to parse the sparse policy pointers in the speech. (Rob Satloff does a nice job of it.) Some of the influences on Obama bubble to the surface. There is the Third Worldism: Muslims are victims of our colonialism (Obama has read Fanon) and the Cold War (has he been reading Khalidi again?) The primacy of the West is over: “Any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.” There is the implicit comparison of the Palestinians to black Americans during segregation, a familiar trope (Carter and Condi went for it too). Israel comes across as an anomaly. There is no appreciation of Israel as a strategic asset—its ties to the United States are “cultural and historical,” and thus not entirely rational. (That validates Obama’s other former Chicago colleague, Mearsheimer.) All of this has the ring of conviction—and of a Third Worldist sensibility.
Maybe the most disconcerting line is this one: “We can’t disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.” The pretense? This discrediting of liberalism and its universal humanism is the classic stance of the Third Worldist radical. And did you know that the job description of the nation’s leader now includes “my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear”? Perhaps it’s possible to disband CAIR. America now has a president who knows “what Islam is, [and] what it isn’t,” and who even has a mandate to insist on closing “the divisions between Sunni and Shia.” Perhaps an emissary should be sent from Washington to the pertinent muftis and mullahs: the mission would certainly be more congenial than closing divisions of General Motors.
Indeed, not since Bonaparte has a foreigner landed on Egyptian soil and delivered a message of such overbearing hubris. Were I a Muslim, this 6,000-word manifesto would have me worried stiff. This man wants to be my president as much as he is America’s.