President Obama's speech to the Muslim World in Cairo Thursday carried with it a myriad of potential pitfalls. Would this be a big apology to the Muslim world? How pro-America would the President be? Would he recognize publicly before a Muslim audience Israel's right to exist? Would he tackle human rights issue and if so how?
The bottom line here is that his speech had something for everybody. Let's face it. You could cherry pick this speech and make it look relatively conservative in nature. You could also take some quotes and come up with a liberal leaning Youtube video. But to be fair, this speech seemed to hit the correct tone. It didn't come across as anti-American at all. In fact, the President may have surprised his critics to a certain degree by delivering a speech virtually free of apologies and instead offered a solid defense of American interests.
Placement is so important in a speech. Let me give you two examples of what I'm talking about. What struck me is that he came out against violent extremism FIRST in his speech. He could have buried it in the middle of the speech with a few lines but he confronted it head on early. Smart move.
Then later in his speech when speaking about the Israel/Palestinan crisis he began with a defense of Israel FIRST. That's significant. It sets the tone. If he had bashed Israel on settlements first and gone down the grievance list one by one and then defended Israel, it wouldn't have had the same impact or punch.
Look, there is enough in this 55 minute speech to criticize if you really want to do that. You can nitpick the speech to death.
When he quotes the Koran or says Islam has "a proud tradition of tolerance" that won't sit well with some Americans. Calling out Israel on settlements to a Muslim audience won't sit well with Israel. He gave a long list of Muslim achievements in the World but left out some of the less flattering incidents.
So what happens now? This speech was aimed at the "Arab street". If the United States wants to make progress on the ground in Afghanastan and Pakistan they are going to need to build "street cred" in places that have traditonally been tough sledding. The U.S. has a PR problem and President Obama has a lot going for him as the guy to potentially make some progress. Could you imagine George Bush making this speech? The shoes would be flying so fast we'd lose count.
Clearly, this President has an opportunity here. As a young, hip, African American President with Muslim ties, he came to Cairo with not just a message but rather a message that was ready to be received be a Muslim world curious about this Barack Hussein Obama. The younger generation especially is paying attention to him. Check back in a few years and we'll be able to get a sense of whether this speech really was a "New Beginning" or just false hope.
Two side notes: He said, "I am a Christian" in the speech. He could have decided not to say that line but did so he'll get some kudos for that. Also, is it just me or did he look like Bob Barker from "The Price is Right" coming out from behind that red curtain?