Olive Branch or Banality?
A look at the recent speech delivered by President Obama, in Cairo, by a disinterested viewer.
Political speeches are something that I tend to ignore. There use to be a time in this country when you could tell the difference between a political speech and a speech that was delivered by a politician. When Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address that was a politician giving a speech. When Franklin Roosevelt delivered his famous speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor, that was a politician giving a speech. We don’t have that anymore in this country. Men like Lincoln and Roosevelt showed what it takes to rise above self serving oratory and delivered impassioned speeches that spoke to our very cores. No one cared at those moments whether Lincoln or Roosevelt were Democrats or Republicans.
Now I understand my examples were of men delivering speeches following extreme events in our nation’s history. But in our day and time there is little more important than the situation breeding in the Middle East. The recent history between the United States and the Middle East has been marred with death and disappointment. Our President, Barrack Obama, recently visited the region and delivered a much publicized speech. It had been heralded going into it as an olive branch to the Muslim world. It was supposed to be a monumental step towards clearing the bad history between our two cultures. I didn’t watch it.
I chose not to watch the speech because I no longer believe that a politician can step to a podium and give a speech that moves me. I don’t believe that a politician at that level would ever be allowed to give a speech in that setting that would make any kind of game changing effect. When Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address he was giving a speech that he himself wrote, on the train to Gettysburg. No one saw the text of that speech before Lincoln read it aloud. Before the President gives a speech he has to get it cleared through 50 different channels. Presidents today don’t even write their own remarks. After the speech had been given I listened to all the talking heads. None of them were surprises. Those people who were supporters of the President before the speech gave it praise while those who were not supporters before the speech said it was the end of the world.
After all the rhetoric and posturing I decided to go back and watch the speech on the internet. I was in no way surprised by what I heard. In the interest of full disclosure I will state that I did not vote for President Obama and I have expressed my issues with decisions he has made since taking office. I try not to let this color my feelings of each new event however. I took excerpts from the speech and will use them to highlight my feelings on the speech.
“Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.”
Now real quick, without already knowing who said this, how many of you might have attributed this comment to someone like Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney? This is a strong, concise condemnation of the attack on the United States by a Muslim extremist group and it was delivered in the very heart of the Muslim world. This is a very bold statement and it was not his only one.
“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”
“Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”
Here you have a direct challenge to all the people in the Muslim world who have continued to claim the Holocaust never happened, as some have been doing for decades, people including the President of Iran. But with all political speeches in this day and age both sides of the fence has to be mollified.
“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”
Now we can see the fence and both sides are getting well tended to. The simple fact is that the entire speech was filled with a few bold claims, followed by statements meant to temper the previous declaration so that no one is too offended. Then some Mea Culpa was thrown in to say “Hey we aren’t perfect either, let’s not be perfect together.” The sad truth is that most of the speech was filled with banal statements like these:
“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.”
So to be clear, he likes freedom, happiness and probably puppies. Honestly with all the rhetoric out there with Conservatives shouting that he selling us off to the Muslim world and the Liberals touting him as a savior I was hard pressed to find something in this speech to make me have any feelings at all. Until I got to the lightning rod of the whole 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.
And there we have it folks, the money shot. An interesting point is raised in this statement, do we as a nation, the only nation to ever use a nuclear weapon against someone, have the right to tell some countries they can’t have nuclear power? I believe we do. First of all he states at the end that the nation would have to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That means that for Iran to be allowed to have the technology they would need to open their doors to inspectors and the international community, not something their history would show they are good at doing. Second, you cannot have a leader who goes on television every chance he gets and shouts that he would love to eradicate a nearby nation and expect the world to give you the means. Third, the scariest aspect of nuclear technology is not a state getting it, states generally act in their own self interest. If Iran bombs Israel then they will also be eradicated, making it less than likely they would do so. The nightmare scenario is a terrorist cell getting the technology. A group that exists outside of self interest is much more dangerous than a state. I think it is hard for most of us to think that the current leadership in Iran would be diligent in keeping the technology away from such groups.
Now let’s be clear however, nowhere in that statement does it say that he will gladly hand over the technology to the Iranians. And while I don’t care for President Obama’s politics I do not believe he is naïve. And I do not believe that Israel will let him just give Iran the bomb. The fact is that people are making too much out of this statement and this speech as a whole. Listening to it I felt as underwhelmed as I expected to be. This speech was not a game changer, I don’t believe that minds were altered by it. If you are a reasonable person than you already agree with most of what was said. If you are an extremist than no rhetoric will ever matter to you. The only thing I will take away from this speech was how surprised I am that anyone had a strong reaction to it one way or the other. This was just a political speech delivered by a politician, nothing more.