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By Micah Halpern

Tuesday May 26, 2009


President Barack Obama's desire for change is admirable, but it is also dangerous. It is especially dangerous when he reaches out and embraces other nations and cultures. Especially, in the Middle East.

The buzz has begun on the Obama Middle East doctrine. The speech is still in the formation stages, but it has already had a huge impact on events in the region.

The chosen date is June 4th. The chosen venue is Cairo. It began during the presidential campaign and has been repeated over the last 100+ days. Obama advisers have promised a broad, far reaching presentation aimed at putting into perspective the desires, intentions and ambitions of the United States for the Middle East. In short, this address will speak of the changes that President Barack Obama hopes to wrest from the Israel, the Palestinians, Iran and the nations, cultures and religions of the Middle East region.

The concept of such a speech is as grand as it is tactically well intentioned. Barack Hussein Obama has chosen an Arab center of power from which to reach out to the Muslim world and explain where the United States stands on important issues. In his own way, Obama is restoring to Egypt the grandeur of days long gone, re-asserting the power and presence of Egypt in today's historic and diplomatic context.

Obama will not lay out details of an Israeli/Palestinian peace, the White House made that clear last week. He will mention it and he will emphasize the US conception of a Two State Solution and he will stress the need for Palestinians to have their own, independent state, one that lies next door to Israel and lives there is peace.

He will talk about terror and about freedom and about Iran and about Iran’s race to acquire nuclear technology. He will speak of advancement and of culture, of sharing and learning and understanding. The speech will be very polished and very well delivered - that is the Obama way. And the president of the United States will probably include phrases in Arabic and perhaps even begin his address with an Arabic verse from the Koran. He will not speak in Pharsi, the language of Iran. And much of what he says will fall on deaf ears.

As smart a tactical move as making this speech is, as good as it will look and sound from the point of view of the United States and the West, the impact of this grand maneuvering, of this speech, will be, at best, negligible in the Muslim world. At worst, it will be dangerous.

The Muslim world is divided into three parts. Part one is looking for a ray of light, of hope, of change, from the United States. Part two can never see or hear or experience anything positive from the United States. Part three, the majority of the Muslim world, requires much more than a well spoken, well intentioned, grandstanding speech from the president of the United States of America to impact the way they view US/Muslim interaction.

Despite the good intentions and the positive aspects of the speech, it will bring about no serious change in US/Muslim interaction. By definition, it cannot.

Arab and Muslim cultures are deeply informed by myths and historical narratives. Those narratives take a long time to develop and to seep into the culture. They may be and often are based on half truths and incorrect, revisionist, history but they are a part of the collective memory of the region and of the entire culture.

And part of the currently held myth is that the United States and Israel are inextricably bound together. The myth propagates the idea that the US protects Israel and oppresses the Arab and the Muslim. Part of the myth is that Israel is grabbing Arab land and that Israel is intent on the destruction of the Arab people and Muslim/Arab culture.

Iran has already rejected everything Obama is about to propose, even before the words have been said. Iran has no desire to reach out and grab the Obama gesture. Rather, Iranians exploit Obama's gesture and use it as cover for their own duplicitous end in acquiring nuclear capabilities. Iran understands Obama, realizes how weighty his words will be to part of the Muslim world and knows that they can be the counter weight to this message.

As he ascends the literal platform to deliver his address in the heart of the Arab world, Obama is handing over a figurative platform to enemies of the West. And that is dangerous and damaging.

For Iran, the Obama message is a message of assimilation and a Western cultural attack against Islam. For Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah it is emboldening. The warming period that Obama has extended to these rogues has given them the opportunity, means and motives to act more boldly and become more powerful.

I admire Obama's desire for change, but the Arab world is not the United States.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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