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President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation in New London, Conn., Wednesday, May 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation in New London, Conn., Wednesday, May 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)  

Obama channels George W. Bush and talks tough to friends and foes in Middle East speech

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama’s speech on Middle East policy combined a notably hard-line toward allies Israel and Bahrain, favorable references towards President George W. Bush’s policies, and unsentimental and unflattering depiction of Arab economies, societies and hatreds toward Israel.

The sharpest reaction to the speech came in response to Obama’s statement that Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders (with agreed land swaps), prior to any Arab acceptance of a Jewish state on lands that are regarded by most Arabs as Muslim territory, dubbed the ‘umma.’ The statement, which some see as reversing U.S. policy, will reduce Arabs’ incentive to negotiate and leave Israel with less reason to trust U.S. committments, said critics.

The speech marks a major rhetorical and strategic shift from Obama’s 2009 speech to Middle Eastern Muslims, during which he repeatedly flattered his audience, demeaned his predecessor and offered little of substance.

Since that 2009 speech, the people he was speaking to have deposed two dictatorships and revolted against at least four others, while the talks that he wanted to take place between Israelis and Arabs collapsed once Arabs raised their demands to match the president’s public opposition against Israeli home-building near Jerusalem.

This time around, the president didn’t repeat widespread yet unsupported local claims about Muslims’ tolerance of minorities or of Islamic scientific accomplishments, but instead declared that “Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed [by Sunni rulers] in Bahrain…[and] if you take out oil exports, this region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland.”

He even criticized Arab culture, attacking “the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect.”

On Iraq, he combined low-key criticism of President George W. Bush’s decision to install a democracy in place of Saddam Hussein, with an implied promise to support Iraq’s elected government. “In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy…[it] is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress [and] we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.” The language suggests that the U.S. would accept a widely-expected Iraqi government request for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq as a shield against Iranian advances.

Obama’s depiction of Iraq as a model for democracy also echoed one of Bush’s reasons for overthrowing Hussein. “Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater politics participation, economic openness, and free trade,” Bush declared in a 2003 speech to the American Enterprise Institute. “From Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform [and] a new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region,” Bush declared.

Obama’s speech also included a back-handed endorsement of Bush’s aggressive counter-offensive into Iraq following the 9/11 attacks. Bush’s offensive pushed al Qaeda to respond, but its many civilian-killing suicide attacks in Iraq and Jordan wrecked its support among Arabs. “The overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life…al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end,” even before Osama bin Laden was killed, Obama said.

  • Spring

    Many, if not most, Jews support a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, http://jstreet.org

    • 8second.ride

      It was proven before that jstreet is a democrat pac. They support only democrats. Is that too hard for you to understand? Or are you just lying?

  • mdiavaro99ro

    Usually the more concessions one makes – the more demands for more concessions are going to be made. That the 1967 positions are nondefensible is true, but so it’s true the actual position are nondefensible. The only reason they seem to be defensible is because of US outspoken support and tacit if reluctant acceptance by other major players.

    If this support starts to be too costly then it simply might vanish. :D

    For some reasons, for Israel the US has been willing to accept a lot of costs: almost as if the US is guilty of something. Either that or it is yet another example of what happens when feeding bananas to monkeys LOL. I mean the Israel-Germany relationships look quite relaxed and sound as opposed to Israel-US ones. Germany can afford to criticize Israel without much bashing while the US cannot.

    Anyway all the above bla-bla it meant for this funny question: would Israel consider moving its borders on let’s say some of Germany’s territory (historical data would entitle Israel to such a claim now that it exists as a State in position to claim)? Or on some of US territories for that matter since, according to behavior, the US is the guilty party in regard to the Jewish State?

  • erick1740

    Netanyahu just bitch slapped 0bama at the presser today, fun stuff to watch. 0bama looked like the total bumbling fool that he is. What an embarrassment.

    • 8second.ride

      That was fun, wasn’t it!

      • virginiagentleman

        And just! O had it coming!

  • kingfish

    TRUNEWS – BARACK OBAMA IS HARRISON J. BOUNELL (1/3)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyJVgISDZ94
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEUNVrHHGmc