You’d have to be living in a cave to have missed the big news from the last week. President Barack Obama (D) delivered a lengthy speech—over 6,000 words in length—in Cairo, Egypt. The speech was directed at the Muslim world and expressed the President’s desire to ‘reboot’ the relationship between the United States and the various Islamic nations and peoples throughout the world.
I applaud Obama’s efforts . . . although, as a realist, I’m not seriously expecting his speech to accomplish anything. The greater Islamic world-view is one focused on subjugation of other cultures, and a pleasant speech from the President of the United States won’t change that any more than the last three decades of pleasant speeches have. Having said that though, what struck me about Obama’s (admittedly well-delivered) speech was that he didn’t really say anything. Our previous president, George W. Bush (R), had a reputation for a glib, direct, almost dismissive style of communication. Obama, on the other hand, is quickly gaining a reputation for saying tons of nice-sounding words that, ultimately, don’t really say much more than those glib ‘Bushisms’ did.
So what did we learn from Obama’s long, eloquent speech? Well, we learned that the U.S. isn’t at war with Islam (but we knew that already). We learned that the U.S. wants peace and democracy in the middle east (but we knew that already). We learned that the U.S. doesn’t intend to maintain permanent bases in Iraq and we want to get out of Iraq as soon as we can without destabilizing it or the region (but we knew that already). We learned that U.S. policy with regard to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is that there should be an independent Israel and an independent Palestine living together in peace (but we knew that already).
In fact, essentially everything that Obama said sounded exactly like what George W. Bush said, what President Bill Clinton (D) said, and what President George H.W. Bush (R) said during their respective presidencies. I can’t think of anything in Obama’s speech that deviated from U.S. policies that have been in-place largely unchanged for more than 20 years with regard to the middle east and Islam. For those of us who have been paying attention, it’s quite perplexing to hear anybody talk about this speech as some sort of new beginning for relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world. A continuation of the same policies we’ve had forever cannot, by definition, be a new beginning.
Except, of course, that the fawning U.S. and foreign media seem to think that everything Bush did was wrong, and everything Obama’s doing is great . . . even when they’re doing the same things (see economic policy, foreign policy, war on terror, etc.—each little changed since Bush left office). ‘Change,’ indeed.
The problem is that we do need change with regard to our foreign policy in the middle east. The ‘two state solution’ in Israel and Palestine sounds great on paper, but it simply cannot happen until the Palestinians reject terrorism and radical Islam. Period. There will be no peace with Hamas, Hezbollah, and their ilk in control of Palestine or maintaining influence elsewhere in the region. There will be no peace with the current leaders in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The ideologies and individuals that rule the region cannot be reconciled with the ideologies of religious freedom and democracy. One will have to give, and it can’t be freedom and democracy.
The problem with Obama’s speech, aside from its ‘nothing new’ nature, is the same problem with many similar speeches delivered by past presidents. It’s the same problem with the Oslo Accords, the ‘Road Map for Peace’, and other initiatives. The problem is radical Islam, and an all-too-common interpretation of the Muslim faith that calls for Muslims to convert people to their religion by the sword when they do not wish to join willingly. This brand of Islam claims, based on the instruction of the Qur’an, that any land that was once under Muslim control must remain forever under Muslim control (hence the refusal to coexist peacefully with Israel, even though it was a Jewish homeland long before it was a Muslim homeland).
All the speeches in the world won’t change these truths. All the peace treaties and cease fires in the world won’t end the violence. I’ve lost count of the cease fires established between Israel and Palestine, each promptly violated by Hamas, Hezbollah, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades on the Palestinian side. Our policies have not worked, and President Obama—the candidate of ‘change’—has opted to maintain the same failed policies of his predecessors toward Palestine and the Muslim peoples of the world. I long for peace just as much as anybody else, but I can not be convinced that peace is possible as long as these poisonous brands of Islam maintain religious authority in the region.
One long speech repeating the same tired platitudes—Islam is a religion of peace, Israel and Palestine can coexist, etc.—will accomplish nothing except a brief, deceptive period of ‘good feeling’ followed by another ten or twenty years of same-old violence and mayhem in the middle east. How about we try something different now?