Monday, June 08, 2009

Obama’s Cairo pill: Too big to swallow?"

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 9th, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 9 Haziraz 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

We must say openly the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. As the Holy Koran tells us, ’Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.’ That is what I will try to do --to speak the truth as best I can." Barack Hussein Obama,Cairo, June 4.

Before the Cairo speech, President Obama also gave a much-anticipated Commencement speech at a Catholic university, Notre Dame, on May 17. Preceding the speech, there was a good deal of debate in the American media and in public, since Notre Dame is a Catholic university and the positions on abortion, the divisive topic that has always been a subject of national debate, are very different between Obama and Notre Dame. Apart from the fact that the commencement speech was beautifully delivered, also the notion of tolerance was skillfully infused to flatter the institution that hosts this unlikely president. With overlooking the speech writers’ role, the most fascinating element of the speech was that it showed how well Obama is versed in the Catholic faith and way of life. Analysts agreed that the codes and rhythms of the Catholic faith that were applied in the speech so well punched the nerves of the audience that it seemed as if Obama spoke and "knew" fluent Catholicism.

As I watched it over again, he was defending the acceptance and patience for abortion supporters as a reflection of the tolerance to seek common grounds while talking at a Catholic institution, which by the way is administered by Catholic Church leaders. Obama also was raising another thorny issue, the race issue amid embracing the white, Midwest Catholic institution and its former president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who was one of the members of the 1964 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which played a grand role to grant the rights of blacks in America so opened the road for himself to be president.

So this was one of the reasons that I was very curious how, now, Obama can resonate with a Muslim audience, institution and way of life, after he just did it with a Catholic one a couple of weeks ago.

His mentioning extremism in his speech as the first issue was valiant. Defending America’s "unbreakable" ties with Israel and brusque reference of many cowardice violent acts, without naming them as "terrorism," in front of an Arab audience in a Muslim country was also forthright. His unequivocal rebuke of Israeli settlements as illegitimate in a roaring fashion was evenly daring. This ease left the Israeli government spinning and still couldn’t come up with a solid retort to this new American rhetoric. There were only some weak and tweak voices that tried to voice nationalist and religious sentiments without receiving much attention. By taking the Israel-Palestine issue as a priority, chanting two-state solution, Obama distinguished himself from all the other American leaders who seemed to insincerely want to do something in the past about this conflict at a time right before their terms were expired.

Obama, happily, disappointed me
My expectation before the speech was either Obama was going to pass over the notion of democracy, or be too soft on Arabic dictators. He either was going to make a U-turn on the Israel-Palestine conflict or try to appease radical and extreme elements of the region. Obama, happily, disappointed me in all points. I didn't think he could stop blaming Bush for everything that happened, and could warn Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions and also explain and defend the policies of the 9/11.Hosni Mubarak is a detested dictator figure, and giving a speech in his country, I thought, would have given his policies and way of an air of legitimacy. While I can’t trust him, the possible alternative to Mubarak was the Muslim Brothers and there are also serious concerns about their maturity to respect and stomach the minorities of Egypt. To his credit, Obama voiced the respect for the rule of law and democracy ingenuously, slapped the Egyptian leader with not thanking or referencing him directly and did not fall short of pre-empting and warning those Muslim groups who might fancy to ’use’ and ’abuse’ democracy until they manage to come to the power.

With the speech, Obama, once more, stocked the expectations high. There will be many upshots of this speech: it might fracture the new Right-wing coalition in Israel which has given tough promises to their own radical groups to get where they are now. Those promises cannot be broken easily, just as the unyielding American position and demands cannot be shrugged off simply.

The Cairo rapprochement also might help to bring down Ahmedinejad as soon as in two weeks when the Iranian general elections will be held. Obama said Iran and any country in that respect has a right to have any kind of energy, including nuclear. Thus the Iranian position or pretense from the beginning for acquiring the nuclear energy now out there and can be attainable. If the right process is set for Iran to reach peaceful nuclear energy in coming times, then the people of Iran will start asking tough questions more loudly such as why they should continue to pay the price for their government’s self-serving chauvinistic stance while being deprived from modern days’ comforts. Or even if the current Iranian administration is still able to cling to power, the new times will not be as black and white easy as has been the case.

The speech will push Hamas for more forbearance and moderation, would negate Osama and Al Qaida further to their "Cosmic World", and drive for more women, religious and human rights in the Muslim world. However one more result of this speech is the possibility to crack America’s institutions’ patience. Though, so far the Cairo speech was less provocative in America than the Notre Dame speech. This constructive outcome also shows that the speech reverberated well with the American public as well.

At the end, the Cairo pill seemed too big to swallow for parties, including Obama himself. Obama is going to either walk to the destination to bear the pain and fruit of digesting his own medicine, or choose to join fence-sitters and to be flushed away. There were many American presidents who did the latter and got away with it. Though this time around, this US President cannot get away with being motionless, because that will definitely wipe out the United States’moral authority from the Mideast for the unforeseeable future. It all depends how the words will be replaced by the deeds.

At any rate, the power of the Cairo medication numbs the parties for the time being. When all are awakened, and the effects of the promised deeds are started to be felt, we will witness colossal consequences.

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