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Douglas Feith on Obama’s Cairo Speech


Former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith has a thought-provoking op-ed on Obama’s Cairo speech up at the Washington Times. Feith focuses on Obama’s overuse of the word “must” — as in, “Hamas must put an end to violence.” The word appears more than 30 times in the speech. 
“The problem with ‘must’ is that it kills analysis,” says Feith. “A good policy discussion brings forward a sensible set of goals and well-considered assumptions and then weighs the pros and cons of various courses of action that aim to achieve the goals.” He goes on:

In proclaiming what the Palestinians, Iranians, Israelis and Muslims generally “must” do, Mr. Obama is not elucidating anything about them. He is telling us about himself – his own attitudes, preferences and sense of right and wrong. That’s interesting, to be sure, for he is the president of the United States, but it doesn’t show understanding of what’s driving foreign leaders to act as they do or what the United States can do to influence them.

The speech caused a dizzying variety of extreme reactions — some were horrified while others waxed rhapsodic. These reactions seemed mostly unhinged to me. I thought the speech was, more than anything, mundane — a well-intentioned but predictable recitation of the American consensus on the principal grievances of the opposing sides. It continued the traditional Anglo-American fallacy of thinking that being evenhanded is the same as being fair. It was different from the typical Bush Mideast speech chiefly in its lack of modesty — hence the 30-plus commandments.


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