Criticism and Conciliation
Obama's Cairo speech.


After listening to the president’s speech in Egypt this morning, National Review Online asked: Did the president do any good? Did he do harm?

President Obama’s address in Cairo today was a mixed bag. While not exactly the mea culpa that many detractors of his administration feared, the president’s speech failed to press the leadership of “the Muslim world” to self-reflect where it mattered most: democratic governance. Obama enumerated the merits of political pluralism and affirmed America’s respect for “the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world,” but he all but declared that there would be no practical consequences should the region’s potentates fail to “unclench their fist.”

I do applaud Obama for urging them to stop exploiting the Arab-Israeli conflict as a tool to distract from their failings at home, but he squandered a golden opportunity to reaffirm the major lesson of 9/11: that our past sponsorship of venal, autocratic regimes did nothing to neutralize violent extremism, but rather everything to incubate it. True, Obama pledged to support the rule of law and free speech around the world. But as those reformers in the region hanging on every word of his speech today would no doubt agree, a sterling defense of democracy it was not.

– Jeffrey Azarva is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


Just imagine: After a thousand years during which Islam and Western civilization have trod opposite paths in philosophy, science, and the most basic attitudes toward relations between the sexes and the role of work in life — and after a half-century during which Muslims have murdered Western ambassadors and Olympians, to the cheers of millions of their own — suddenly a young American seems to believe he can conjure up a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” How could anyone imagine he possesses such a “reset button”? The answer only starts with Yuppie hubris.

It is all too clear that Obama and his followers share one of the postmodern world’s most dangerous intellectual habits, indeed a habit that mainstream Islamic civilization adopted circa 1000 AD and that has so lowered its quality of life, namely disregard for the relationship between ends and means, cause and effect. Hence Obama told the Muslim world, “This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.” Must? Who will make it stop? How? He went on to say, “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace,” True enough. But at the same time he preached those differences, especially regarding women. In his piece de resistence he urged his audience to “abandon violence,” because “resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed.” But his audience knew perfectly well that the U.S. government had given billions of dollars to to the Muslim world precisely because so many Muslims had succeeded in killing so many Americans. Of course they had succeeded.

Americans have only begun to suffer for having empowered a leadership class so intellectually crippled.

– Angelo M. Codevilla is a visiting professor of politics and a Madison fellow at Princeton University.

There was nothing wrong with this speech in principle. The boy who makes good returns home to bask in adulation. The young man whose father was a Muslim, schooled in Indonesia, middle name Hussein, becomes president — and naturally goes to Egypt to collect some homage. That’s only human, and if it can do America some good, so much the better.

The president said, “No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust”; in reality, no single speech can do much of anything, which is lucky for us.

The Cairo speech was a sustained act of dancing around the truth, feeding the crowd an occasional bitter-tasting fact followed by a ton of sugary nonsense; treating the most important truths as if they did not exist.

It’s easy to denounce the murder of 3,000 innocents on 9/11 — which the president did. It’s much harder to condemn the Arab crowds who danced in the streets afterward — which the president did not do. It’s easy to decry the long years of “tension” between the Muslim world and the U.S., but much harder to discuss the liaisons between Arab leaders and Nazi Germany, followed by the era of Soviet client states armed to the teeth and dedicated to the mass murder of Israelis. It’s easy to denounce President Bush’s America, but much harder to give it due credit and to uphold the honor of the United States and not just the honor of Barack Obama. “I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein,” said the president. Ultimately? And is this a belief, or is it a fact?

And the president somehow neglected to mention that the U.S. has done no harm whatsoever to “Muslims around the world,” that it has fought a series of wars in the Balkans and the Middle East on behalf of Muslim nations and peoples, or that a Muslim in the United States is vastly freer in every way than a Muslim in Cairo or in any other Middle Eastern nation, except for the new Iraq and, of course, Israel.

The Muslim world has suffered deeply from sustained lying by its educators, religious leaders, political rulers, and cultural elites. The president could have denounced these people and their load of hateful lies. But that would have required conviction and courage. And conviction and courage are above this president’s pay grade.

– David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale and a contributing editor of
The Weekly Standard.