Obama’s speech to “the Muslim world”: Who cares?

posted at 12:05 pm on June 3, 2009 by Karl

The media and punditocracy is ramping up the hype for Pres. Obama’s allegedly “historic” Speech to the Muslim World in Cairo tomorrow. Christopher Dickey preemptively laments that Obama will not use the occasion to apologize for every grudge Muslims nurse against the evil American empire. Joseph Loconte notes that so far, Obama has not followed through on his campaign rhetoric about his ability to address the failures of contemporary Islam. Paul Wolfowitz hopes Obama will use the Cairo speech to recommit to “the freedom agenda,” but fears he will not. Wolfowitz and Reza Aslan both note that Obama is not even speaking to the “Muslim World” in all of its diversity, but really to Arab (and perhaps Persian) Muslims. Lisa Anderson, provost of the American University in Cairo, suggests Obama’s real audience is domestic. She is probably closest to the truth.

Although the latest Gallup poll shows that U.S. leadership approval ratings are up in a number of Arab nations, the numbers remain dismal and are actually down in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. (An earlier Gallup poll showed a plurality thinking that the outcome of the US presidential election would not make a difference to their countries.) Polling in Arab countries by Shilbey Telhami and Zogby International shows that — much like America — Obama is personally popular but deep skepticism remains on policy issues. Considering that the Obama administration plans on keeping large numbers of troops in Iraq, has no viable plan for closing Guantanamo Bay, etc., Obama’s honeymoon with the Arab street — modest as it is — will likely be short-lived.

Furthermore, the oppression that prevails throughout most of the Mideast means that in the short-term, public opinion does not matter as much as the opinion of the oppressors. When Obama finishes speaking to the Muslim World, it is far more likely than not that the Muslim World will still not be speaking to him. The president’s platitudinous piffle will undoubtedly send a thrill up the collective leg of the lapdog press here in America. Elsewhere, it will be remembered about as well as his equally “historic” trip to Turkey last month.

Update (AP): My thoughts exactly. To believe that half an hour of pap will advance the ball in the Middle East, you’d have to believe that tensions there are based largely on “cultural misunderstandings,” not wholly irreconcilable goals like the right of return. It’s worth doing simply because it’s a costless exercise, but as with anything Obama does, the media hoopla is wildly disproportionate to the actual effect. A productive use of righty bloggers’ time this afternoon will be to seize on the passages inevitably touted by the press as “breakthroughs” and then comb through Bush’s speeches for their analogs, of which there are bound to be many. Exit question: Will The One address the lingering “cultural misunderstanding” about whether the Holocaust happened? It’d be nice to find common ground on that, at least.

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