Yes, he rewrote history, particularly the history of Muslim and Arab rapacity and bigotry, and he pandered a lot. But the pandering was in large part diplomacy and far less than conservatives were predicting, and far less than the pandering that characterized his previous attempts to mollify the Muslim world. He most pointedly did not apologize for American actions after 9/11, or seek to find excuses for the terrorist attacks in our policies and behavior before 9/11. On the contrary, he deliberately opened the wound of 9/11 to justify America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“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-Qaida 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-Qaida 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 … “
And Iraq! This is the war he had opposed as unnecessary and wrong, until now. In Cairo he did not apologize for “Bush’s war” or America’s “occupation.” He said that the Iraqis were better off without Saddam Hussein, which obviously could not have happened without the war — a truism, which for seven years Democrats failed to concede. Where Kennedy and Gore and Obama himself condemned America’s war as “unnecessary,” “illegal,” “based on lies,” an aggression against a “fragile and unstable” country that could not defend itself, Obama, speaking in a Muslim capital, defended our presence in Iraq as driven by a desire to give Iraqis their freedom and their country. Bush could not have said it better.
As for the Middle East conflict, Obama began — began — by telling the Muslim world that the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable, and by opening the wound of the Jews that made a homeland for them a moral imperative: “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.”
And then he characterized Holocaust deniers like Ahmadinejad as despicable, and identified them as a cause of war in the Middle East, and announced that he was going to Buchenwald the next day (clearly to underscore that fact): “Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”
And while Obama made false parallels between Jews and Arabs as contributors to the intractability of the Middle East conflict and rewrote some history, he also said in no uncertain terms that it was Palestinians who had to renounce violence (and here he drew no parallels and no moral equivalence) and had to recognize the Jewish state — something even the “moderate” terrorist Abbas refuses to do.
And to underscore this point he drew a parallel between the struggles of American blacks for civil rights and Palestinians. But unlike Condoleezza Rice, who not too long ago drew the same parallel to aggrandize the PLO terrorists as civil rights activists, Obama drew a sharp and revealing line of distinction between them: “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.”
And that was really the core of Obama’s speech. It was a defense of America’s founding and America’s mission. We are a tolerant nation and a peaceful nation, Obama told 1.5 billion Muslims, and we will accept and embrace you if you reject the violent and hateful among you and walk a peaceful and tolerant path. And this tolerance must extend not only to the Jews of Israel, and other infidels, but to Muslims among you who are oppressed, specifically Muslim women: “The sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights. I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.”
That is not pandering. It is saying that America’s democratic, tolerant, inclusive way needs to be the path to the future for the Muslim world.
Conservatives will make a great mistake if they fail to see this speech for what it was, and treat it as another round in the partisan food fight. It was not an appeasement of our enemies. It was a forthright statement by an American leader in a Muslim capital explaining why America is in fact the global leader in those battles that matter most to people everywhere: freedom, equality, and peace. As conservatives we have many quarrels with the Obama administration — and we should have. But this speech is not one of them.