Reaction To Obama's Speech In Cairo

(CBS/iStockphoto)
Ever since the announcement of President Obama's trip to the Middle East, the media have been buzzing about Mr. Obama's planned speech in Cairo. Now that the president has made the address, political analysts, journalists and others have lit up the Internet with their impressions.

Many felt the speech was exceptionally moving and delivered the right message.

"Your heart would have to be made of basalt and dry ice would flow in your veins if you were not moved by Barack Obama's speech," Dahlia Scheindlin told the Huffington Post. "President Obama talked about seeking similarities, not differences; a world view where people speak honestly, neither hiding painful truths, nor crippled by them. He viewed religion as a source of peace and reconciliation, rather than the fashionable-but-philistine view that it is the source of all evil. In the pre-Obama era, the only logical response would be a great big guffaw."

Al Jazeera joined the many applauding Obama for his empathetic tone. The news network's political analyst said the address helped undo "the harm done by the Bush administration."

"[The speech] was about willingness to engage in soft power while keeping the military option alive," Marwan Bishara said. "It reminded America of its new duties, of democracy, freedom ... without, at the same time, discounting the use of military power."

Some were surprised by Mr. Obama's tone regarding Israel. Journalist Sabria Jawhar praised Mr. Obama for what she believed to be a break with traditional American-Israeli policy.

"For the first time ever I am beginning to sense that Israel will be held accountable for its actions and its failure to embrace the two-state solution. Unlike previous presidents, Obama spoke of 'Palestine'," Jawhar said. "Whenever he spoke of the failings of Arabs to find a path to peace, he brought the same message to Israel."

Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Al Jazeera that Mr. Obama's pressure on Israel to stop settlements was effective.

"His call for stopping settlement and for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and his reference to the suffering of Palestinians ... is a clear message to Israel that a just peace is built on the foundations of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," Rdainah said.

While many acknowledged that Mr. Obama's speech was delivered well, they saw lack of substance in the words. Political analyst William Bradley said that the speech's arena itself was reason for success.

"The fact is that Obama didn't really say anything new," Bradley said in The Huffington Post. "The positions he laid out are positions he had in his campaign. But he did say it all at once, and quite well. In that sense, to borrow a phrase from Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message."

Some critics are also pointing out not only what Mr. Obama did say, but also what he didn't say.

"With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters," Peter Daou, former Internet advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said in reference to Mr. Obama's comment concerning women's rights in the Middle East.

Others believe the speech lacked the strength necessary to render it successful.

"Obama is targeting the Arab 'street' and global public opinion — but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing," Daou said.

Middle East consultant and former journalist Shirin Sadeghi agreed with Daou that the speech was ineffective. but she also disagreed with him, stating that governments would put the words to better use than to the billion Muslims around the world.

"[Obama's] words today were more useful to the governments with whom the United States must engage during his administration — governments like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, The Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, all of whom have a severely problematic regard for the rights of their people — than for the Muslim people whose living reality is too often stained by insufficient power to improve their lives," Sadeghi wrote

Rick Moran conceded that the speech was well-spoken, but argued that parts of it were troubling for many reasons.

"It was a very good speech with some eye popping assumptions that were just plain false, a glossing over of some points that needed to be hit harder, and a troubling lack of candor about the Muslim world regarding extremism that he either believes or deliberately failed to address," Moran wrote.

Others believe that the content was valuable. In reference to Mr. Obama's utilization of the founding fathers to further his points, Christopher Preble wrote that it was a reminder of an America that Americans themselves have forgotten.

"[The Founders] believed that the new nation should advance human rights and the cause of liberty by its example, not by military force," Preble wrote. "Some of our recent leaders seem to have forgotten that, and a few pundits have actually scorned the suggestion. The president wisely cast his lot with the earlier generation."

As for the future, MSNBC anchor Carlos Watson says America needs to increase money flow into other nations.

"Think of a guy having relationship issues," Watson wrote. "He might think it's about a lack of communication or a lack of romance, but sometimes all he needs to do to break the stalemate is step up and buy the ring the girl is waiting for. To truly turn around these unstable relationships, Obama is going to have to show them the money. With wars costing $1 trillion and annual U.S. defense spending inching towards another trillion, $100 billion in 'preemptive foreign aid.' will be money well spent."

Most agree that the true test for Mr. Obama lies in actions.

"If we are to fix America's image in the world and if we are to heal the planet's myriad ills, it will not be done through contrite kumbaya speeches about how we are all one world and how we should all coexist peacefully, no matter whether the remarks are delivered in Cleveland or Cairo," Daou wrote. "It will be done by leading through example, by righting the many wrongs here at home, by seeking justice and fairness for all, by doing what is right, not saying what sounds pleasing to the media elite and the pliable punditocracy."

Helene Cooper wrote on The New York Times' Website that while Mr. Obama's speech may or may not have been effective, actions speak louder than words.

"While Mr. Obama's strong words may resonate today, on the Arab street and in the madrassas and the tea shops and dining tables where the world's 1.5 billion Muslims congregate, the future actions of Mr. Obama will be far more important," Cooper wrote. "For Mr. Obama's words to mean anything, [Muslim scholars] say, American policy will have to change."

Obama's Trip: Complete Coverage

  • Prerana Swami

Comments