Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some thoughts on President Obama's Speech in Cairo

Kendall Harmon at TitusOneNine links to the full text here.

The President goes right at some of the hard issues. He also seems able to overcome some of the religious tone-deafness that has hindered American foreign policy for decades.

Here's an affirmation of America:

But that same principle (overcoming stereotypes of Islam) must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

He rightly names the President's (and government's) primary responsibility:

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people...

He rightly assigns responsibility for American military action:

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case...

He calls for a "two-state" solution for Israel and the Palestinians, while at the same time putting forward a non-"PC" challenge:

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered...

No speech is perfect, and the issues he's confronting are among the most difficult on the planet. A couple of his thoughts that I question:

His statement about democracy sounds good, but does it really square with his administration's takeovers in the economy, the passage of "hate crime" laws, his party's imposition of policy through judicial fiat, and other anti-democratic thoughts and deeds?

...But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.

His comments on nuclear proliferation are probably the weakest and most platitude-laden of the speech:

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

And this paragraph gave me pause:

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

The question is, how can our nation state, operating under the rule of law, forge any coherent relationship with a decentralized religion? This is not like appointing an ambassador to the Vatican City - Islam has no such identifiable leadership.

This paragraph buys into the view that Muslims have an identity and authority over/against any nation state in which they live. This greatly compromises any effort to make progress by treaty, alliance or any of the other normal diplomatic means.

What I read in this speech is an important effort to build a diplomatic approach to a major foreign threat. This is necessary - the alternative is a protracted global war, waged largely on the defensive as there is no clear measure of victory.
But the President rightly noted his primary role as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and there will have to be a strong military component to his policy. Parts of the Muslim world remain tribal and primitive, insulated from diplomacy. There are significant numbers of Muslims who really believe in a divine mission to subjugate the world under their faith. The President seems to get this:
So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.
Those of us who follow Jesus have a duty to respect and pray for those in public authority, and for our enemies. Let us offer up prayers for President Obama and this difficult undertaking in a world of conflict.
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 1979)


Alice C. Linsley said...

Well said, Georgia.

I question Obama's presentation of America is a place where religious traditions overlap. The secularization of American society is not consistent with either the biblical worldview or with Muslim's desire for Sharia.

Also, I ask for your prayers as I will have a 2-hour surgery on Monday and will have a good deal of pain for the first week.

TLF+ said...

Thanks for these comments, Georgia and Alice.

Prayers for you healing and comfort, Alice!