Great speech by President Obama in Cairo. No surprise there. The world is learning, just as Americans have already learned, that the U.S. president is a gifted speaker. Here and abroad, though, observers are reserving judgment on how well he backs up what he says.
Obama's address yesterday in Egypt sought "a new beginning" between the United States and the Muslim world by acknowledging past mistakes, and pushing for policy changes that won't come easy for either of them. In particular, Obama stressed a firmness with Israel that Arab nations won't believe until they see it.
"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," said Obama. But how far will he go to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the "natural growth" of settlements?
Obama said, "Palestinians must abandon violence." But he urged Israel, for its own security, to address the "continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza" and "lack of opportunity in the West Bank." He said the Arab states must help, too, and stop using conflict with Israel to distract attention from their internal problems.
The wide-ranging speech also dealt with Iran, with Obama agreeing that it had a "right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with . . . the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." On Iraq, he again pledged to comply with the agreement to remove all U.S. combat troops by 2012.
Before Obama even got to Egypt, a taped message purportedly from Osama bin Laden was released to the Al Jazeera TV channel. It blamed Obama for a million refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan, caused by the fighting there. "Obama has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor in increasing animosity toward Muslims," said the message.
If the voice was indeed bin Laden's, the tape served as testimony to the terrorist's fear of Obama's ability to persuade Muslims to shun jihadist rhetoric.
And Obama was persuasive. He talked about the Muslims in his family, noted the contributions of Muslims in America's history, and quoted from the Quran, the Talmud, and the Bible. Now, Obama must put his words to action, pushing all to work for peace.