ChrisWeigant.com

Friday Talking Points [80] -- Parsing Obama's Cairo Speech

[ Posted Friday, June 5th, 2009 – 16:36 PDT ]

This will be a truncated column this week (which doesn't mean it isn't also a fairly long one). Because every so often I have to devote the entire week's roundup to examining a single speech. And President Barack Hussein Obama's speech to the Muslim world which he just gave in Cairo is important enough to examine without other distractions.

Which means no "most impressive" or "most disappointing" awards this week, sorry. No Democrat really stood out as being overly impressive or disappointing this week anyway, so it's not a great loss. If pressed, I would have given Obama the MIDOTW for his speech, and would have (if the rules did not forbid it) awarded the MDDOTW to myself, for extolling the virtues of the company that made the Hummer, in one of the most outrageously biased columns I've ever written. Bad Chris! Bad! Bad!!

Heh heh.

I spent much of the rest of the week looking at Obama's polls and spending two days discussing Judge Sonia Sotomayor, and her critics (including a look at what real racism sounds like, from Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who was denied a judgeship himself for this very reason). Which I only mention in passing because while this column is a stickler for using correct titles (people in Washington love that sort of thing), I really wish a lot more of the media would do so in this case. Sotomayor, no matter what you think of her, is a federal appellate judge. This needs to be recognized and used by everyone, immediately, just as a sign of due respect we give to anyone in this position. It is "Judge Sotomayor" or "Judge Sonia Sotomayor." The next time you read a mainstream media article about her, notice whether her title is used the first time her name comes up. If it isn't, write the editor and complain. This is a sign of casual disrespect, and needs to stop.

OK, enough ranting. Let's move along to Obama's speech itself.

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 80 (6/5/09)

Although this is long, it merely hits the highlights of Obama's speech. I encourage everyone to take ten minutes and read the entire transcript for yourself. Obama, it should be pointed out, did not have to give this speech -- he chose to. He ran the risk of criticism here at home, and the benefits to him personally and politically in America were slight compared to the risk of actual political damage.

But he felt it was the right thing to do, and important for America's image in the rest of the world. So he went ahead and gave the speech anyway. This is why he was elected, as far as he's concerned. The possible benefits of raising America's image in the rest of the world were more important than any domestic political concerns. So whether you thought the speech was a flop or a barnburner, you've got to at least give Obama credit for the attempt.

Personally, I think this is one of those speeches which will long be remembered both in the Muslim world and here in America. Which is why I'm spending the whole column reviewing it.

 

President Obama's Cairo Speech

President Obama opened his speech with words of respect for Cairo, Islamic learning, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. He also used the phrase "assalaamu alaykum," showing (more than most Americans in foreign countries can manage, I might add) that learning a word or two of the local language ("please" and "thank-you" should be the first two) goes a long way towards showing that you are aware you are in a different culture than your own, and that you are trying to show that culture some respect.

Obama then brought up September 11th, and talked about how some Americans now view Islam, and (more generally) the relationship between Islam and the Western world. He ends this part with the theme of his speech ("a new beginning"):

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors.

He then quotes the Koran (and calls it "the Holy Koran" -- again, showing respect), and talks about Muslim influences on his own life. He then admits to a fact most people in the West are unaware of -- that in medieval times, the Muslim world was a beacon of intellectualism, while most of Europe was pretty barbaric in nature, and suffused with religious intolerance of new ideas. Centuries ago, things were completely different to where we stand today:

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places like Al-Azhar University -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

Obama then moves to speaking about Muslim Americans, and misguided perceptions both in America and in the Muslim world:

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But 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. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

He then continues on the "Islam is a part of America" theme for a while, before getting to the "laundry list" part of the speech, which he opens:

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet 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. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

This is an interesting subtext in Obama's entire speech -- he says things are "facts" and not opinions, which is important both for the American audience and the Muslim world. The conspiracy theory that Jews were really behind 9/11 is widespread in the Muslim world, and (just as with Holocaust-denial) is a cancer on the public's opinion. But before feeling too superior, remember that Dick Cheney told us for years that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 (and something like 70 percent of America believed him), meaning that people will use this sort of thing politically when it behooves them in our world as well as theirs.

But it is refreshing indeed to hear any politician speak in such clear language: "This is a fact. It is not opinion." Considering the lunacy that passes for "political debate" (which the media stokes with a passion) on American television screens -- where there are always two points of view, and every "fact" is subject to spin from one side or another -- it is a breath of fresh air to hear someone stand up to this sort of nonsense and just lay it on the table: "This is a fact to be dealt with."

And, once again, showing respect, Obama makes a Muslim argument that will resonate with the audience:

Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths -- more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace.

Just as leaders of the American pro-life movement are the most important ones to hear from in the denunciation of murdering doctors (as most of them did), Islamist militants need to be countered by strong Muslim leaders who denounce them for being un-Islamic.

Obama continues, talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, and the United States' desire to remove our troops from both countries eventually. Once again, this counters the impression of America as some sort of neo-colonialist power, which is prevalent in that part of the world. Changing these impressions is the main thing Obama wants to accomplish. Which he follows up with:

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. 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.

These are symbolic gestures, and the scope of them is often not appreciated or understood fully in America. The image we project to the world is very important. Obama knows this. You can fault him for how he is going about closing Guantanamo or ending torture, but you have to give him credit for understanding what potent symbols they have become to the rest of the world.

He then pivots to a tough part of the speech for the audience to hear -- America's bond with Israel.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

He talks a bit about the suffering of both the Jewish people and the Palestinians, and the two-state solution. He rebukes both sides, albeit very carefully.

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.

Those last two sentences are among the most powerful in the entire speech. He then has some milder words of rebuke (notice the modifier "continued" in there) for the Israelis:

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. 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.

This leaves open the question of what to do about the settlements that currently exist, but it is noteworthy that Obama pushed back against Israel even to this degree, since the Muslim world hasn't seen the United States as a neutral broker in the dispute in a long, long time. So even symbolic gestures carry a lot of weight on the subject.

Obama then touches upon a very important point. Middle Eastern countries are notorious for saying what America wants to hear in English, and then going home and saying something completely different to their people. This game of doubletalk means they can appear to be one thing to the American audience, while reassuring their people back home "here's what we really feel." This is a major obstacle to progress, and Obama wades right into it:

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

That "(peace be upon them)" is critically important, which most American media just completely missed. In Islam, this phrase (with: "...upon him") is supposed to be uttered every single time you mention Mohammed. It is a mark of respect, like saying "Lord Jesus." And the fact that Obama followed their convention will go a long way in the hearts-and-minds department. But Obama was smart, and lumped together Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in this honor, showing that he respects all religions, not just one. This was a brilliant job of phrasing, and whoever wrote this paragraph deserves a raise.

He then tackles Iran and the nuclear problem. Now, this gets sticky for two reasons. The first is that Iran is fully allowed (even though you don't hear this often in American media) -- and even entitled -- to develop nuclear power for civilian purposes. They are a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is what gives them this right.

But Muslims everywhere will immediately point out that Israel has never signed the NPT. We play a fictional diplomatic game over the issue, where everyone is supposed to pretend that the sky isn't blue, and that Israel doesn't have nuclear weapons because they've never actually admitted having them. Which is the second sticky issue.

But before he gets to it, he makes another astonishing admission of truth (one that most Americans are simply not aware of, having never been taught such things in school) -- one of the biggest problems America has with Iran is the fact that we (via the CIA) overthrew their democratically-elected government not so long ago. You don't hear presidents talking about this particular piece of our own history very often, which is why it was astonishing to hear Obama say so (in bold "this is a fact" language).

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

Obama will likely be hit from the right domestically over making such an admission -- with the tired old smear that he's one of those "blame America first" liberal types. But the converse of this is almost never brought up -- that the people making these complaints are just as robotic as how they're trying to paint their opponents, except that they are "never blame America for anything, even if America was in the wrong" types. Which, as I said, is why Obama's statement is so astonishing. We overthrew a democratically-elected government less than 60 years ago. We installed a despot who was friendly to us. The people of Iran quite rightfully resented this, and they still do. If we don't admit this, we are not seen by the Muslim world as being fully honest. Because it is not a matter of opinion, it is a fact. But I have never before heard a president actually admit this fact, and certainly not in front of a Muslim audience.

But back to Iran and the nuclear issue:

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

This conveniently ignores another historic fact -- that we aided and abetting Israel getting nuclear weapons, and that America did indeed "pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons," which is part of the problem today. By wrapping it in a "let's all get rid of nukes" package, Obama sidesteps talking about Israel's nukes. A big glaring omission, I have to say.

Obama then speaks of democracy, using the line: "So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other." Which must be a refreshing thing for Muslims to hear from an American president. Obama talks up the benefits of democracy for a while, then moves on to his next point, religious tolerance.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

"Zakat" is the Third Pillar of Islam, and can be roughly compared to the Christian concept both of alms-giving and of "tithing." Laws passed after 9/11 have restricted charity money flowing from American Muslims, because some of that "charity" money doesn't always wind up funding such charitable purposes -- some false charities funnel money to terrorist groups. Which is why the laws were beefed up. But Obama is saying "maybe the laws are a bit too strict, let's see if we can improve them." This is an issue that isn't even on America's radar, but one with huge implications to Muslims, making it both a symbolic issue and a substantial one.

Obama then speaks briefly about women's' rights, saying "I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice." He's not exactly using a sledgehammer to drive the point home, and is rather weak on standing up for women in Muslim countries (for instance) who do not want to cover their heads. But this is a very touchy issue, so you get the sense Obama is walking on eggshells here a bit. His last point is about development in the Muslim world, which he supports, and then he begins wrapping up his whole speech:

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

. . .

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples -- a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

 

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

31 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [80] -- Parsing Obama's Cairo Speech”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Let’s imagine, for a moment, how the course of history might have been altered if the President of the United States had delivered a similar sort of speech in a majority-Muslim nation’s capital around about the time of late September, 2001? No, wait...that missed opportunity is just too painful to contemplate. But, still...the possibilities are literally mind-boggling. Sigh.

    OK, now I’m going to sit back, put my tired feet up, and thoroughly enjoy your grande examination of this remarkable speech. See ya next week!

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Excellent analysis. I enjoyed the speech, and thought it was brilliantly written. It worries me though that some parts might be cherry-picked to revive and expand the myth that the president has some sort of secret anti-american agenda. you and i know that it would be utter silliness, but i wonder how many snippets of this speech will be removed from their context to foment fear and hatred.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    I can't believe I'm about to say this, but Bush seemed to learn his lesson. After intially using the term "crusade" from then on, he always was careful to say "we're not at war with Islam" and give similar respect to the religion when talking about "the war on terra." Obama wasn't saying anything very materially different, but (1) the fact he was giving his speech in Cairo, and (2) his style and oratory were just miles beyond what Bush could ever have managed, IMHO.

    nypoet22 -

    If anything, the bit about the CIA and the Shah would seem to be the ripest cherry for them to pick. But Obama's got the facts of history on his side.

    When talking to people about Iran, I always ask the following: "If another country had hijacked America's democratically-elected government when your father (or grandfather, to some) was a boy and installed a dictator, whom you then held a revolution to overthrow when you (or your father) were a boy... would you still harbor some ill will towards that country today?"

    Putting the shoe on the other foot, and seeing things from someone else's point of view is crucial to getting anything done anywhere in the world, and especially in the Middle East. Obama is pretty good at that sort of thing, as he so ably demonstrated by his speech. Or course, the hard part (actual policies and dimplomacy) is yet to come, but that speech was a pretty good start, if you ask me.

    -CW

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    @Liz

    Let’s imagine, for a moment, how the course of history might have been altered if the President of the United States had delivered a similar sort of speech in a majority-Muslim nation’s capital around about the time of late September, 2001?

    Yer kidding, right??

    That's like suggesting that the Israeli leaders should have traveled to Berlin in 1952 and deliver a Koom-Bye-Ya/touchy feely speech to the Germans...

    While in a perfect utopia, it would have been all nice and grand, we have to allow for human nature.

    I think it's sufficient that we didn't start lobbing nukes around the mid-east... You ever read SUM OF ALL FEARS??

    @CW

    Since everything else has been debated to death, let's touch on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict..

    Palestinians must abandon violence.

    That pretty much sums up the whole of the entire argument, although I would qualify it as "Palestinians must abandon terrorism and support of terrorism." Resistance thru violence CAN be honorable, necessary and eventually successful..

    However by resorting to terrorism and support of terrorism, the Palestinians will always be morally, ethically and legally in the wrong. Has anyone ever wondered why Israel has (pretty much) carte blanche in dealing with the Palestinian situation? It is because of the Palestinian's constant and enduring ability to avail themselves of every opportunity to miss every opportunity.. By the constant and nearly unwavering support of terrorism, the Palestinians are their own worst enemy...

    NOTHING justifies terrorism. And, by resorting to and supporting terrorism, the Palestinians justify every excess, real or imagined, that the Israeli's commit.

    In short, the Palestinians could live in peace, side by side with the Israelis if they were content to live in peace, side by side, with the Israelis.

    Until the terrorism against Israelis ends, NOTHING will be resolved in the region..

    And until the security of Israel can be assured, no one, not even President Obama, has the right to dictate to the Israelis what they must and must not do..

    It's actually rather ironic in a way. The Left has denigrated and castigated the Bush Administration because of how it dictated terms and conditions to other countries. Yet, that same Left wants the Obama administration to dictate to the Israelis on how to run their affairs...

    Just another example of Left wing hypocrisy in action...

    Michale.....

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Michale:

    However by resorting to terrorism and support of terrorism, the Palestinians will always be morally, ethically and legally in the wrong. Has anyone ever wondered why Israel has (pretty much) carte blanche in dealing with the Palestinian situation? It is because of the Palestinians' constant and enduring ability to avail themselves of every opportunity to miss every opportunity. By the constant and nearly unwavering support of terrorism, the Palestinians are their own worst enemy…

    here's a shocker: i agree with you almost completely.

    my only bone of contention with you here is that i don't think president obama is "dictating" terms, at least not the way president bush did. "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements [in the west bank]," is a statement of disagreement, not an ultimatum to get rid of the settlements or else. i think israelis recognize the distinction.

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    here's a shocker: i agree with you almost completely.

    That IS a shocker.. :D But a pleasant one, to be sure..

    my only bone of contention with you here is that i don't think president obama is "dictating" terms, at least not the way president bush did. "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements [in the west bank]," is a statement of disagreement, not an ultimatum to get rid of the settlements or else. i think israelis recognize the distinction.

    Another shocker.. I agree with you as well..

    I wasn't saying that President Obama is dictating to Israel.. I simply pointed out that, at this time, with Israel still suffering nearly daily terrorist attacks, neither he nor any other world leader has the moral, legal or ethical right to dictate to Israel how to handle it's security concerns. As you can probably tell, I have immense respect for the Israeli security services (both civilian and military), which comes from personal experience. Their expertise and professionalism is, by far, the best in the world.

    What I had meant to say is that those on the hysterical Left who castigate the Bush administration for how it had "dictated" to other countries are the same people who WANT President Obama to dictate to Israel.

    Fortunately, President Obama has, once again, proven that he is much MUCH smarter than the average bear by ignoring the hysterical Left.

    Ya gotta love the guy, if only for that! :D

    Michale.....

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CW and Michale,

    I'm sure you guys read what I wrote but, I'm not sure that you understand that what I wrote is not precisely what I meant to say! :D

    I was just thinking how different the last several years might have been if President Bush, in the early aftermath of 9/11, had been so inclined and compelled to travel to a Muslim capital and deliver a speech - as a certain presidential candidate in 2008 suggested - calling on all nations and all peoples to unite against the violent extremists and, together, plan and implement a comprehensive strategy to isolate and eliminate al-Qaeda and their ilk from the face of the planet.

    I'd be willing to bet the farm that, if that had happened, we wouldn't still be waiting to capture bin Laden and we sure shootin' wouldn't still be listening to his pathetic audio tapes!

  8. [8] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Liz,

    I can't agree more. Far from "dancing in the streets," the Middle East reacted with horror on 9/11. A million people held a candlelight vigil in Teheran. But where was our press? We never heard about these things -- they were drowned out by the jingoistic drum-beat of "let's roll."

    Really, 9/11 was such a wasted opportunity for diplomacy, both public and private. Iran wanted to talk, and until the Bush team decided to stuff them in an ideological box with Iraq and North Korea (could there be three stranger bedfellows?), Iran helped us in Afghanistan. How different would things have been if the Texas oilman had presented then-president Khatami with a diplomatic opening?

    But no, we had to be cowboys. We had to let the neocons talk up a "clash of civilizations," and do as much clashing as possible. All that incendiary talk of carpet-bombing the whole region just exemplifies how thoroughly the extremist threat was, and is, misunderstood. No one wanted to carpet-bomb Michigan after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building.

  9. [9] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Chris,

    I just have to say that I was most impressed by the way Obama's speech translated. He's a rare American to understand that language is more than pronunciation: one must speak a cultural syntax, not just words. The Bush administration did this only once, with the constant repetition of the word "evildoers." Obama did it several times in ONE SPEECH.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    @Liz

    I'd be willing to bet the farm that, if that had happened, we wouldn't still be waiting to capture bin Laden and we sure shootin' wouldn't still be listening to his pathetic audio tapes!

    And I am willing to bet the farm (or any amount of quatloos you desire) that, if Bush had done that, he would have been impeached the micro-second he returned from the Touchy/Feely tour...

    Imagine the reaction if, on Dec 8th 1941, FDR had traveled to Japan and made the speech apologizing for all the wrongs the US had committed that "forced" the Japanese to kill thousands and thousands of Americans.

    What you suggest is an act of appeasement. We had just got our collective ass kicked. Bush going to Mecca (oh wait, a mere infidel is not allowed to go to Mecca... :^/ ) and begging the forgiveness of Islam would be like Oliver going up to the headmaster saying, "Please sir. Can I have some more???"

    @Osborne Ink

    Far from "dancing in the streets," the Middle East reacted with horror on 9/11.

    Really?? So there was NO "dancing in the streets" in Islamic countries after 9/11??

    Hmmmm I guess ALL the news footage showing just that was faked, right??

    No one wanted to carpet-bomb Michigan after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building.

    No, but we did nuke Japan after Pearl Harbor..

    You're comparing apples and alligators again. If Michigan were a different country that raised their children to hate everything American and their entire culture revolved around killing innocent Americans as the surest path to heaven, you can bet that carpet bombing Michigan would be very high on a very short "Honey Dew" list...

    Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg also thought they could "talk" with Islamic terrorists and befriend them.

    Sadly, they found out differently.

    Michale.....

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    @Liz

    Don't get me wrong. In principle, I am in complete agreement with you. I am enough of a liberal to want to talk with my enemies and make friends out of them..

    But there is a time for that. In the immediate aftermath of having our enemy kick us in the balls with a steel toed boot is definitely NOT the time to go about that process.

    If history shows us anything, it shows us that a lasting peace and lasting friendship can only be achieved the will and/or the ability of the enemy to wage war has been thoroughly decimated.

    World War II. We nuked two Japanese cities to show the Japanese that the continuation of their war would likely result in the death of their entire culture. We obliterated their will to fight. On the European front, we totally decimated the German's ability to fight. And the loss of ability also served to eliminate their will to fight.

    The British/IRA issue is another perfect example of beating your enemy to a pulp before extending the hand of friendship..

    So, I completely and 1000% agree with you in principle... Our only point of contention is when would be the best time to extend the olive branch. In dealing with terrorists, the absolute WORST time is to do it in the immediate aftermath of an attack. Such an action would absolutely GUARANTEE future terrorist attacks and make the US look like Israel.

    Michale.....

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Matt,

    If we had to sum up the previous administration in just a few words, we could probably do it in just two...squandered opportunities. In fact, that's probably the absolute best that could possibly be said about their efforts over eight long years.

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    I seem to have some sort of innate ability to make myself about as clear as mud...and, I'd to lose it sometime. :)

    But, wait a second! What did I ever say to imply a "Touchy/Feely Tour" (you really know how to hurt a person's feelings...jeez, Michale...I resemble that remark), "apologizing", or "begging for forgiveness"? Those are YOUR words and thoughts, they are most certainly not mine.

    I thought you were on our side - the side of obliterating al-Qaeda, not talking to them! Or, have I misunderstood you? You don't talk to al-Qaeda and the violent extremists of their ilk - you root them out, once and for all! And, you need the rest of the civilized world, including the vast majority of the 'Muslim world', to do that, plain and simple.

    And, so...Michale, I think we may be in complete disagreement because I would say to you that it is NEVER the time to talk or extend the olive branch to al-Qaeda or any other group of violent extremists. But, it is long past time to wipe their sorry asses (excuse my french!!!) off the face of this planet!!!

    And, furthermore...if that's about as clear as mud, then I officially give up. :(

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ...and, I might just add, Michale, that I don't - for a New York second - think that President Bush would have been at all capable of providing that caliber of leadership, anyway.

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Chris,

    Why is it that your FTP columns at the Democratic Underground only get recommendations and not comments.

    What is wrong with those people?

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Liz & Michale

    You're shooting at different targets. Liz is talking about diplomatic efforts with the muslim world as a whole, not with the minority who attacked us. An effort like the president is giving now, had bush done it in 2001, would have isolated extremists and brought us widespread support to kill them, not appease them.

    Michale is talking about not showing weakness after being attacked, which i agree is an important element. in response to an attack, you have to hit back hard. i think most of the muslim world respected us for doing that in afghanistan in 2001; it's just the subsequent iraq war and diplomatic gaffes (e.g. "axis of evil") that blew an opportunity to turn many more muslims to our side, and against al-qaeda.

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    @Liz

    I know I can be an arrogant ass sometimes.. OK OK.. MOST times.. I don't really mean to be personally insulting. My apologies, sincerely....

    All I am saying is that ANY kind of diplomatic overture to the Muslim world in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 would have been mis-construed by the Muslim populace and intentionally mis-characterized by the terrorists themselves. It would have amounted to a defacto "win" for the terrorists, even more so than it already actually was.

    Enemies would be OH SO MORE inclined to be our friends if they are faced with the choice of that or utter destruction..

    "PEACE.... Thru superior firepower."

    :D

    Michale.....

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    I know I can be an "arrogant ass", too...sometimes...well, not as often as you...:D

    But, hey...that's why we get along so famously and have really hit if off from the get-go! So, there is never a need to apologize between us, OK? At least, I'll you know when I need one.

    :-)

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    nypoet,

    Thanks for setting the record straight - you nailed it!

  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:

    @Liz

    Thanx :D

    I am actually surprised we have disagreed so much of late. I have always thought that we agree on so much more than we disagree on..

    I guess CW is just picking the wrong topics! :D

    Michale.....

  21. [21] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    I'm going to answer everyone else later, but I just had to say:

    There are no wrong topics. There are only wrong comments.

    No, wait, that can't be right...

    :-)

    Heh heh.

    -CW

  22. [22] 
    Michale wrote:

    There are no wrong topics. There are only wrong comments.

    Touche' :D

    I had hoped you would read that in the tongue in cheek manner that it was meant.. :D

    Michale

  23. [23] 
    akadjian wrote:

    As I was reading this excellent discussion, I was reminded of a short bit from the movie "Thank You For Smoking."

    Nick Naylor, the main character, is talking to his son about his role as a spokesperson for the tobacco industry and explaining how he is "never wrong."

    He has his son pick his favorite ice cream and asks him to defend it. His son picks chocolate and he picks vanilla. His son starts the debate by saying that chocolate "is the best ice cream. I wouldn't pick any other."

    Nick responds with the brilliant line: "I need more than chocolate, and for that matter I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom. And choice when it comes to our ice-cream, and that Joey Naylor, that is the defintion of liberty."

    But that's not what we're talking about, his son says. That's what I'm talking about, Nick says. But you didn't prove that vanilla was the best.

    "I didn't have to. I proved that you're wrong. And if you're wrong, I'm not right." Nick says.

    "But you still didn't convince me," Joey says.

    Nick responds by claiming that it's not you that I'm after, I'm after them and he points into the crowd.

    This, I think, is one of the things that makes Obama so smart. He seems to understand that you are not going to win the minds of a small group of zealots.

    But you can win the minds of the vast majority of people who are not terrorists. This is the big difference between his approach and George W. Bush's approach.

    Bush claimed that we were in a war against Islamofascism and created enemies from civilians who weren't terrorists. He seemed to see things as Muslims vs. Christians and went after the wrong targets. His inflammatory rhetoric created enemies where there weren't enemies before.

    Obama, with his speech, is working to win over the vast majority of the Muslim world which does not support terror. It seems like he understands, though, that force should still be used for true terrorists and criminals, but that your average Muslim just wants the same things that anyone wants- happiness, freedom, etc. By speaking to the Muslim world as people rather than terrorists, he "isolates" the extremists (thx - nypoet22).

    When faced with true terrorism such as the recent Somali pirate attack, Obama authorized going after them and using the appropriate force.

    But he also understands that terrorists are a small group. And the truly fanatical are an even smaller group. If you win over the majority of the Muslim world you isolate those fanatics and win over people who can help you fight the true criminals.

    Great post and discussion! Fun and lively as always :)
    - David

  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's always fun to bash the Bush Administration, I realize that. It's almost.... no... It IS the Left's favorite past-time..

    "But here are the facts and there is just no getting around them...."
    -Sam Weinberg, A FEW GOOD MEN

    Since 9/11, there wasn't one single terrorist attack on US proper.

    NOT ONE...

    This is a fact..

    One has to ask one's self "Why is this???"..

    Several possible answers.

    Terrorists, all of the sudden, got stupid.
    This is extremely unlikely that, after planning a decisive and brilliant strategy, that they would revert to the terrorist equivalent of the Marx Brothers.

    There were no terrorist attacks planned.
    This is completely unsupported by any facts whatsoever.

    The Bush Administration is actually in cahoots with the terrorists and the terrorists were simply trying to make Bush et al look good.
    I'll let THIS gem of moronic-ness stand on it's own merit. Or lack thereof....

    The diligence of our Intelligence and Counter Terrorist operations worldwide, with the full and complete support of the Bush Administration, led to unprecedented success in stopping terrorist attacks before they could be put into play...

    If one employs the concept of Occam's Razor and has a modicum of intelligence, this is the obvious conclusion.

    Time will tell if Obama's penchant for "talking" will actually mobilize Muslims to police their own and will, in turn, lead to continued success in preventing terrorist attacks on US proper. Considering all of Obama's actions, I kind of doubt it..

    When faced with true terrorism such as the recent Somali pirate attack, Obama authorized going after them and using the appropriate force.

    Sorry to burst your bubble but, by definition, the Somali pirate attacks are not terrorism at all, let alone "true" terrorist attacks..

    Michale.....

  25. [25] 
    akadjian wrote:

    You've got it, Michale. You seem to understand the "Thank You For Smoking" principles quite well.

    It's about changing the conversation.

    If the original conversation is about comparing 2 different approaches to combating terror, you change it to be about Bush bashing vs. supporting our President.

    Brilliant!

    I also like how you take your opinion and contrast it with a dumb opposing opinion to make yours look reasonable.

    Like so ...

    1) You either agree with me that our Counterterrorism efforts have stopped all attacks in the US, or
    2) You think the terrorists are in cahoots with the Bush administration

    Nick Naylor would be proud. Define the opponents position for them and try to make them look ridiculous. You sir, are a crazy conspiracy theorist while I am a rational grown up!

    This type of stuff was made for TV. The opponent can't believe you're not debating the topic, but just changing the subject. It's not about ice cream, it's about freedom! I'm pro freedom and you're against it!

    In your case, you are the one fighting the good fight against terrorism and everyone else is "hysterical left" tree-hugging hippie terror-supporting socialists :).

    Well played, well played ...

    - David

  26. [26] 
    Michale wrote:

    @David

    Actually, your post WAS about "Bush bashing vs. supporting our President."

    But you can win the minds of the vast majority of people who are not terrorists. This is the big difference between his approach and George W. Bush's approach.

    Bush claimed that we were in a war against Islamofascism and created enemies from civilians who weren't terrorists. He seemed to see things as Muslims vs. Christians and went after the wrong targets. His inflammatory rhetoric created enemies where there weren't enemies before.

    Obama, with his speech, is working to win over the vast majority of the Muslim world which does not support terror. It seems like he understands, though, that force should still be used for true terrorists and criminals, but that your average Muslim just wants the same things that anyone wants- happiness, freedom, etc. By speaking to the Muslim world as people rather than terrorists, he "isolates" the extremists (thx - nypoet22).

    I simply responded to your points and refuted them with the facts. As I am wont to do.. :D

    In your case, you are the one fighting the good fight against terrorism and everyone else is "hysterical left" tree-hugging hippie terror-supporting socialists :).

    Not "everyone else".. Just those that believe that the comfort and convenience of terrorists is more important than the innocent lives of the men women and children that those terrorists would butcher..

    Silly me... :D

    But I did notice how it was you who totally ignored my points in an attempt to change the subject by accusing me of changing the subject.

    You wouldn't by chance be a lawyer, would you? (No offence..) But a good lawyer will always argue the facts. Unless the facts are not on their side, then they will argue the law.

    That seems to be the debate tactic of the pro-terrorists group. They can't argue they facts, so they argue the "law".. In this case, their "law" is the touchy-feely, Koom-Bi-Ya belief that, if we just be nice to terrorists, give them cookies and be all warm and fuzzy with them, they will realize the error of their ways and become pacifists. Of course, the pro-terrorist group has never actually had any actual experience with real terrorists or whatnot. But they read on firedoglake.com that this is what would happen and, of course, everyone knows that firedoglake.com is the premiere counter-terrrorism website where all is undisputed fact...

    But I digest...... :D

    Michale.....

  27. [27] 
    Michale wrote:

    Here is another take on Obama's speech...

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2009/06/10/waterloo/

    Interesting how the same speech produces such diametrically opposed view points.. :D

    Kinda like the three blind men and the elephant..

    Michale.....

  28. [28] 
    akadjian wrote:

    The three blind men and the elephant? Are you Sufi? Have you been reading Muslim parables? Associating with Hindus? That story isn't American. Have you been consorting with terrorists?

    I have to say I'm a little worried about you. But not because you've been reading Muslim literature. I'm worried that you're going to have a heart attack one of these days when you start unironically frothing about the hysterical left. The CAPITAL letters suggest you are highly agitated and ANGRY about all of these pro-terrorist hippy degenerate lawyers with their SITARS and Ravi Shankars sitting around on their respective asses eating cookies and sharing them with others.

    Cookie givers. Give a terrorist a cookie and they just want another cookie. Teach them how to make cookies, however, and they have cookies for life.

    So I hope you're ok and don't have an aneurysm one of these days responding to the "hysterical left." If you were here, I'd offer you a cookie and we could both digest.

    David

    p.s. Interestingly enough, there used to be a Terrorism Knowledge Base which was funded, in part, by the Department of Homeland Security called TKB.org. It seems to have undergone some changes and has emerged here:

    http://www.start.umd.edu/start/

    The U.S. data is shows that between the years 1970 and 2007, there were never any more than 120 defined terrorist attacks in a year. And most of these are perpetrated by small fringe US groups and were against property and simply defined as "terrorist" because they were associated with a political cause. Virtually no incidents from 1970 to 2007. This seems to indicate that factors other than who was President are responsible for the low rate of terrorism in the U.S.

    Other interesting facts: 98 incidents of terrorism in US from 2001 to 2007 (very low as Michale points out)

    Global rate of terror: Has doubled since 2001 from under 1500 incidents per year to about 3000

    Make of these what you will. I was just intrigued to find this database as there has been so much talk of statistics lately :)

    Seems that the government might have been none too proud of their own statistics as well: http://rawstory.com/news/2008/White_House_Increase_in_terror_attacks_0110.html

  29. [29] 
    Michale wrote:

    @David

    The three blind men and the elephant? Are you Sufi? Have you been reading Muslim parables? Associating with Hindus? That story isn't American. Have you been consorting with terrorists?

    Hehehehehehe I don't recall where I read the story..

    You would be surprised at how well read I am. I actually even read Al Jazeera daily.. :D

    sitting around on their respective asses eating cookies and sharing them with others.

    My only beef with them is when they share them with terrorists... I am simply one of those (apparently) rare individuals who thinks that terrorists are the scum of the earth and deserve no kindness, no compassion, no quarter and certainly no cookies.

    "afw'ein Mnhei'sahe"

    It's the Romulan translation of the Latin term, 'sans humanite' which, loosely translated (and paraphrased) means, "I will give them no pity, they deserve no mercy and it serves them right!"

    Anything done to terrorists in the name of saving innocent lives, up to (but not including) terrorism itself, is justified and warranted.

    So I hope you're ok and don't have an aneurysm one of these days responding to the "hysterical left." If you were here, I'd offer you a cookie and we could both digest.

    Most often, the Hysterical Left (like the Hysterical Right) just amuses me, so I'll be ok. :D Thanx for the concern, though. :D

    Michale.....

  30. [30] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Heheh. It might have surprised me a year ago to hear you say you sometimes read Al Jazeera, but not today.

    That's what I like and respect about'cha. You reach out to other sources and see what others are saying. I do the same. Even though people like Michelle Malkin are cowards and won't let just anyone comment on their site. Always wondered what they're afraid of.

    Heck, you even put up with us :D

    - David

    "Together we are greater than the sum of both of us," Vulcan Proverb, The Scroll of Surak

  31. [31] 
    Michale wrote:

    "Together we are greater than the sum of both of us," Vulcan Proverb, The Scroll of Surak

    Color me VERY impressed..

    I have always said and maintain to this day.

    ANYONE who can quote Trek in a philosophical argument is someone who simply can't be all bad... :D

    Michale.....

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