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Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 13:04 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 13:04 | SYDNEY

Obama's Arab (not Muslim) speech



9 June 2009 13:47

While I agree with my colleagues that the Obama speech was a cracker, I can't really share Michael Fullilove's disappointment that it didn't occur in Indonesia, because it was apparent that that this speech was more than just an appeal to Muslims in general. It was deliberately delivered in, and in large part targeted at, the Arab world. 

This was reinforced by his visit to Saudi Arabia the day before his speech, where he noted that such a visit was only appropriate, given that it was the birthplace of Islam. Visits to the two major Arab political actors (and non-democracies to boot) was further evidence of the new Administration's comfort in a pragmatic rather than ideological approach to the region, and an understanding that hectoring of potential political allies was counter-productive to broader US foreign policy goals. 

By contrast, where there is a true Middle Eastern democracy, the US Administration appears to be engaging in good old wedge politics, as Anthony Bubalo pointed out. On the one hand President Obama has reassured Israelis of the guarantee that the US gives regarding their survival, while on the other he is placing pressure on the Israeli Government over the peace process.

It started with Secretary of State Clinton's hard-nosed rebuttal of Israeli attempts to expand settlements and has continued after the speech, with George Mitchell visiting the region to maintain the pressure on both Palestinians and Israelis to commence negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu is now in a difficult position, and his speech this week on the peace process will be crucial in establishing whether, under Netanyahu, the US-Israeli relationship on this issue will be adversarial or collegiate.
During a very good talk I attended at ANU last week by the former Saudi ambassador to both the US and UK, Prince Turki al-Faisal, he was asked what he thought would be Obama's message in his Cairo speech. While saying that he had no idea what would be in the speech, he thought the best thing about it was that it was being done so soon after his election. 

Amid the global financial crisis and the bankruptcy of GM at home, the fact that President Obama took time to deliver his speech so early in the life of his Administration sends a compelling message that the US is committed to the resolution of this issue and, perhaps more importantly, that the involved parties shouldn't anticipate waiting out this Administration. 

While a speech is just a set of words and lasting judgements need to be based on actions, one reason for hope in the way the Obama Administration is addressing the Middle East peace issue is that it is occuring so early in the life of the Administration. If a solution is to be found, it is likely to take all of that time, and then some.

Photo by Flickr user D'ashley-Heather, used under a Creative Commons license.

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