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Obama Seeks Planetary Leadership

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
It was inevitable that people would start comparing President Obama to great statesmen and leaders of the past who have tried bring about peace on Earth, but Newsweek's Evan Thomas has gone over the top. Following Mr. Obama's speech in Cairo, Thomas spoke with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball," contrasting Mr. Obama with President Reagan and comparing the current commander-in-chief to God:

"Well, we were the good guys in 1984, it felt that way. It hasn't felt that way in recent years. So Obama's had, really, a different task. We're seen too often as the bad guys. And he – he has a very different job from – Reagan was all about America, and you talked about it. Obama is 'we are above that now.' We're not just parochial, we're not just chauvinistic, we're not just provincial. We stand for something – I mean in a way Obama's standing above the country, above – above the world, he's sort of God. He's going to bring all different sides together."

Alas, Barack Hussein Obama is a mere mortal. But as Thomas notes, he has global ambitions. He is not content with just salvaging the U.S. economy, exiting Iraq, closing Gitmo, revolutionizing health care, running auto companies or keeping the nation's physical and digital borders safe from terrorists. He wants to elevate the dialog and break down the profound differences, cultural impasses and centuries-old grudges on a global scale. As part of that quest to form a new global alliance for peace, Mr. Obama has been intent on disavowing Bush administration policies, such as the use of waterboarding and the Iraq war, in hope of restoring a more positive view of America around the world.

Mr. Obama clearly isn't messianic—he is a pragmatic idealist of many colors trying to knock common sense into heads of state around the world.

He is keenly aware that the Earth is a mess and that our species has a propensity for conflict and killing on a large scale. He was just at the Buchenwald concentration camp, where tens of thousands of Jews and other persecuted people were gassed, and Normandy, where an estimated 425,000 troops on both sides were killed, wounded or unaccounted for.

His message to the Muslim world and its leaders was implicitly a message for the entire planet.

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

"I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on 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," he continued.

He quoted from the Koran, Bible and Talmud, and concluded his speech with these words: "The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth."

While Mr. Obama's speeches manifest his streak of idealism--hoping to lead the world to a new dawn, where Israelis and Palestinians get along, al Qaeda surrenders its arms, genocide disappears, democracies prevail and no child is left behind—like his predecessors in office who railed against injustice, he sends American troops into battle; authorizes kill orders against insurgents that sometimes result in the deaths of innocent women and children; and negotiates with oppressive regimes in a power-mad world.

Mr. Obama is walking a tightrope between idealism and realism, and the outcome of that balancing act will define his presidency.

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