President Barack Obama’s speech in Egypt on Thursday received mixed reviews both among the crowd at Cairo University and across the Middle East. Indeed, there were some praiseworthy passages in the address including his call for greater religious tolerance, his emphasis on women’s rights, and his recitation of America’s founding principles. But the speech was also highly problematic in many ways that will end up backfiring on the President and the United States:
- Iraq – Obama attacked the decision to go to war in Iraq as “a war of choice” without even mentioning the fact Saddam Hussein had failed to comply with several Security Council resolutions. This was completely gratuitous, wrong, and unnecessary. There are still over 100,000 American troops fighting in Iraq, and this kind of message will only serve to undermine morale. As President, Obama should have paid tribute to his own soldiers who are putting their lives on the line every day in a war against Al-Qaeda-backed insurgents.
- Iran – Obama did not address the scale of the Iranian threat, or Iran’s support for terrorism, or UN sanctions against Iran. Obama made no mention of the fact Iran is arming, funding and training some of the terrorist groups in southern Iraq responsible for killing American and British troops.
- Israel and Palestine – Obama tried to connect the civil rights movement in the U.S. with the Palestinians’ struggle for an independent state. This was a mistake, because the American civil rights movement did not have the goal of destroying the U.S., while many Palestinians, including those in Hamas and other Islamist extremist movements, remain implacably committed to destroying Israel. He vaguely talked about Hamas as if it were just another political party, without acknowledging its revolutionary Islamist ideology, which rejects not only peace negotiations with Israel but Israel’s very existence.
- Guantanamo – Once again the president brought up the Guantanamo/torture issue in front of an international audience, part of a ritual exercise in self-loathing that has become a hallmark of the Obama administration.
- “Violent Extremism” – By avoiding the word “Islamist” and “terror,” Obama downplayed the ideological underpinnings for terrorism. Obama is right that we should not equate terrorism with the religion of Islam, but we also need to be ready to engage in the battle of ideas and be clear when political Islam contradicts the ideals of individual freedom and religious liberty.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, The Heritage Foundation’s Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, Nile Gardiner, comments:
President Obama’s feel-good Cairo speech will do little to strengthen America’s position in the Middle East. It is a speech that projects weakness and contrition rather than American leadership – at times the president seemed embarrassed about America’s global power and achievements. Many of Obama’s statements were apologetic in tone, and the speech failed to recognize the huge role the United States has played in freeing tens of millions of Muslims from the Baathists and the Taliban. In fact, no country in history has done more to defend Muslims from oppression than America, from Afghanistan to Kosovo to Iraq. The president’s address will only deepen the impression among both America’s enemies and allies that Barack Obama does not have the stomach for a long war against Islamist terrorism, nor the will to stand up to the Iranian nuclear threat. The world needs stronger leadership than this.
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