Thursday, June 04, 2009

Obama's Middle East Balancing Act

By Carol Gee


President Barack Obama has just made a major speech to the Muslim world from the stage of Cairo University. According to the AP's Mark Smith, it was "an address designed to reframe relations after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S.-led war in Iraq." The President cautioned against crude stereotypical thinking by either Muslims or Westerners and called for specific actions by several of the region's governments. Politico's Mike Allen described the speech a "seeking "common ground" and "a new beginning" after America's image plummeted under the Bush administration. However, Allen also said it "included blunt talk about the United States, Israel, Iraq, his predecessor and al Qaida." To quote:

Obama got a standing early ovation when he declared: “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But some audience members gasped when he followed that with: “That same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

President Obama is on a four nation trip to Europe and the Middle East. The author described the speech as, "the centerpiece of his journey, and while its tone was striking, the president also covered the Middle East peace process, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the violent struggle waged by al-Qaida." The White House made the speech available on its website.

President Obama's leadership style as he visits foreign countries is open and humble and and this trip may be another beginning in his attempts to diminish "western hegemony." At the same time the President is unyielding in his determination to counter the terrorism of extremist organizations such as al Qaeda. Obama's recent choice of General Stanley McChrystal to be his new Afghanistan commander signals the premium placed on counterterrouism, according to Spy Talk's Jeff Stein. Stein has said that General Petraeus gives McChrystal complete credit for developing and running the revolutionary program usedfirst in Iraq by the U.S. To quote:

As the New York Times put it today, Defense Department officials credited forces under McChrystal's command in Iraq "with finding and capturing Saddam Hussein and with tracking and killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. "The Times' sources added, "His success in using intelligence and firepower to track and kill insurgents, and his training in unconventional warfare that emphasizes the need to protect the population, made him the best choice for the command in Afghanistan, Defense Department officials said."

A Saudi recently put it even more bluntly, again according to Jeff Stein, who headlined, "Ex-Saudi Spy Chief: Kill Bin Laden Then Leave Afghanistan." To quote from this very fascinating interview:

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, an influential member of the Saudi royal family and former head of its intelligence service, says the U.S. should kill Osama Bin Laden and then " get the hell out" of Afghanistan.

The President's delicate dance is one in which he has often engaged at home. This trip launches what seems like a really serious strategy towards keeping the nation safe from the attack of extremists as well as engaging in a serious peace making project with Israel and Palestine. Bon voyage -- the destination is far away but reachable.

(Cross-posted at Southwest Progressive.)

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