Sunday, 7 June 2009

the cairo speech

i've put up a post at the hand mirror about president obama's speech in cairo, covering the section on women's rights. i'd like to put some thoughts on other aspects of the speech here.

to start, i'll copy a comment i made on the other post: "this is a speech... that understands he is speaking in an environment gifted to him by his predecessor, where there is a huge gap between america and the muslim world. his first purpose is to begin to bridge that gap, to get the other side to start listening, then to start talking. in that way you begin to have a dialogue and some movement in a positive direction."

on the whole, i find it positive and refreshing. it certainly signals a new direction, a much more positive direction that involves engagement and seeks to build relationships that are much more equal and based on mutual respect, for example:

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

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 speech is not particularly hard-hitting, but does strike a nice balance between recognising the positives elements of arab history and culture, and the negative actions by america against the need for change in the middle east. he doesn't shy away from the key issues, but he doesn't say anything particularly startling either. he raises the issues without being overtly critical and confrontational. i think that's a good thing.

this bit was nice, it was good to see the contribution of american muslims recognised:

The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores - that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

there were a few things of concern. i'm not sure that the position on afghanistan is a great one. a lot of the bombing there has created enmity and bred extremism. in areas that were already very poor, the attacks which have often killed civilians, have caused more psychological than physical damage (and the physical damage is pretty extreme). so continued military action of that nature is hardly going to be helpful.

however, this was a promising sign:

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

let's hope it actually happens. promises were made to pump money into afghanistan soon after the 2002 invasion, but very little of that money made it into the country. and even less of it was spent on key infrastructure and social services. that has simply got to change, this country desperately needs stability after decades of warfare.

on iraq, this is brilliant:

I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources.

it's impossible to hope that the missing $3 trillion will somehow be accounted for, but even if iraqis can get the full income from their own natural resources, that country will start moving towards recovery.

on palestine, on the whole pretty positive. i feel a little annoyed at this bit:

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.

while i totally condemn violence that has been targetted towards innocent israeli civilians and totally agree with the sentiments in this paragraph, it would be nice if mr obama would recognise that palestinians have tried and continue to try peaceful resistance and all diplomatic means available to them. it would be nice to recognise that for many, many years, no-one was listening to those peaceful efforts, rather than to leave the impression that no peaceful efforts were being made.

still, it was good to see the commitment to the two-state solution. there was this on settlements:

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

but that needs to go further. not only do the settlements have to stop, they need to be dismantled. even condoleeza rice spoke strongly against settlement building, but never did anything to stop them. and so they have proliferated at an increasing rate in recent years. all of those settlements must be dismantled and the land returned, and i would have liked to see that clearly stated.

on iran, this was brilliant:

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.

yup, i'd give a standing ovation for this paragraph alone. if mr obama can achieve this, it will be the work of a great human being. and this on democracy was also very nice:

And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

i'm conscious that this is getting to be an extremely long post, so i'll leave the rest for you to read. my last thoughts echo those of one young egyptian woman interviewed after the speech, when she said that she hoped these words would translate into action.

3 comments:

Hugh said...

You know, Ronald Reagan said he wanted a world without nuclear weapons too.

stargazer said...

no doubt, but i think the main point is that this speech shows such a change from the belligerence towards iran that we were getting from the bush administration. i think that's where the more useful comparison lays, and it's a considerable and positive change. of course, making it happen is the challenge, and going up against the huge military-industrial complex is no easy business. waiting and watching...

Hugh said...

For me the test for Obama is simple - WWCD? That is, What Would Clinton Do?

A lot of the things Obama is saying, including a lot of what he's said here, are things that Clinton said before him. It'd be great if Obama was prepared to confront the military industrial complex, but based on his rhetoric, I'd say he is no more likely to do so than Bush was.

American Presidents have never been short on superficially progressive-sounding rhetoric - even Bush could and did ramble quite happily about the need to go forward in partnership with the Islamic world in order to improve human rights in the Middle East.