Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama: The speech is the message

 It is not what he said, but how Barack Obama said it and who he is that determine the effectiveness of a speech that was meant to reach out directly to the people of the Middle East.

El Rais Obama?


Those looking for definitive policy statements in Barack Obama's Cairo speech will be mostly disappointed. Barack Obama's Middle East policy is still relatively unformulated or unannounced. If he has a detailed plan for foiling Al-Qaeda, for meeting the challenge posed by Iran and for bringing peace to the Israelis and Palestinians, he has not told us about it.

There was at least one great departure from traditional US policy, couched in most peculiar and ungrammatical language, but clear enough:

The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Presidential speech writers must know that "settlements" are not a verb, and they cannot stop. There are no new settlements, and in fact, it is disputable whether or not the construction violates any agreements. The point is however, that this is the first time a US official has questioned the legality of settlements or settlement activity. The writing is clearly on the wall for settlement construction, if not for the settlements themselves.

Obama talked about "Palestine" rather than a "future Palestinian state," which might also be a departure. Other than that, there was not much new. He reaffirmed US support for a two state solution, hardly a surprise, and included the ritual condemnations of terror. He kept a low profile regarding Iran, and while one might think that the North Korean nuclear test would have implications for US policy everywhere, Obama wasn't about to mention it. Nothing else he said that related to policy was really surprising, including his statement that Iran should have access to nuclear materials.

Continued: El Rais Obama?

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