There’s so much to say about President Obama’s historic speech in Cairo today. But for now, I want to focus on the aspects of it that conservatives insisted wouldn’t exist. Sean Hannity, for one, blasted the exercise yesterday as an "apology tour," and while the facts of the speech won’t get in the way of his bleating, one of the most striking aspects of the speech is how it doesn’t shy away from saying that America will continue to pursue actions in its interest that some Muslims may dislike. Another is how it deals frank, non-euphemistic messages to champions of beloved Muslim causes.
Obama on Iraq, one of the two biggest apology-opportunities:
America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis.
Obama on systematic U.S. torture, the other one:
I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.
Not a word of apology. On Afghanistan, he said "despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists." He looked squarely at the conspiracy theories about 9/11 in the Muslim world and called them the garbage that they are. "Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale… These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with."
But by far the bravest things Obama said were about Israel and Palestine. He called the U.S.’s ties with Israel "unbreakable" and called the antisemitism sadly on display in the Muslim world not just disgusting but counterproductive: "Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve." This came complete with Holocaust references. Hint, hint: Iran.
Then came his exhortations to the Palestinians, which could not possibly have been what they expected:
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.
Not only does Obama’s eloquent defense of Israel prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from claiming Obama is cavalier about Israeli security in order to continue his intransigence on Israel’s road-map commitments, but he bluntly told Hamas, "To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist."
The speech effectively disarms the peace-process rejectionists. And to think: he did it all without a word of apology.