Advancing a Free Society

The Problem With Obama’s Middle East Speech

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who is the forty-fourth president of the United States? After two-and-a-half years, we should have a pretty good idea. But we still don’t. Barack Obama remains a canvas for the mind—a wondrous, vexing projection surface. He is a rock star and redeemer to his devotees, and a left-wing Darth Vader to his enemies. Yet, above all, he is a man of too many qualities; take your pick.

Or take his vaunted speech last week on North Africa and the Middle East. Advertised as a groundbreaking statement of policies and principles, it is in fact a basket of goodies—delicious or rotten ones, depending on who is tasting. Just look at the Israeli and Arab responses. Benjamin Netanyahu hated the speech, and said so in polite diplo-speak. Yet Gideon Levy, a leftish commentator for Ha’aretz, thinks it was a boon to Bibi, who can “now sigh with relief” that there won’t be a “diplomatic tsunami” because the U.S. “stands firmly by Israel.” Arabs, meanwhile, aren’t exactly rejoicing. “The Arab world doesn’t need any democracy lessons,” growled Hamas spokesman Abu Suhri. A Saudi wit, Suleiman Al Osaimi paid Obama a scathing compliment: “I like the way he speaks. What he says, however, is of little interest. When … you go back to the speech … you will soon realize that he has said nothing of consequence. They are mere words strung together in a nice way …every word is delivered smoothly and there is lot of clapping at the end, nothing else.”

Continue reading Josef Joffe at The New Republic