President Obama's speech at Cairo University last week constituted the most direct public diplomatic outreach to the Muslim world in U.S. history. As such, Obama should have focused squarely on the one issue that Muslim publics most directly control: the widespread acceptance, if not embrace, of violent extremism.
In this respect, the president failed tremendously. To be sure, Obama spoke in no uncertain terms about the evils of violence, calling it contrary to Quranic teachings that decry the killing of innocents. But he stopped there.
In an act of clear concession to Islamists, Obama declined to call these acts by their proper, morally descriptive name: terrorism. Incredibly, that word appeared nowhere in his speech.
Moreover, when it came to addressing the specific issues that contribute to public support for terrorism in the Muslim world, the president overwhelmingly conceded to the Islamists' version of history.
First, Obama placed the blame for U.S.-Muslim tensions squarely on the West. He declared that this standoff "has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims" - an argument Islamists have used to justify their anti-Western ideology since the late 19th century.
Obama then connected this argument more directly to the United States, lambasting Cold War policies that treated Muslim states "as proxies without regard to their own aspirations." With these words, the president validated terrorists' claims that the United States - and the foreign policies it has undertaken to protect its strategic interests - have been a force for evil.
Second, in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama drew heavily from the standard Islamist dictionary. He referred to the Palestinians' pursuit of statehood as "resistance," which will be translated in Arabic as muqawama - a politically loaded word that Islamist terrorists frequently employ to defend violence. (The M in Hamas stands for muqawama, and Hezbollah's military branch is called al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya.)
The president also used distinctly Islamic terminology to refer to Jerusalem, describing it as the destination of the Isra - the "night journey" during which Muhammad encountered Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. By characterizing Jerusalem as the site of this defining moment in Islamic theology, Obama validated Islamists' outright refusal to compromise on the city, as well as Yasir Arafat's primary reason for rejecting peace with Israel at Camp David in 2000.
Third, Obama echoed some of the key arguments that Islamists have employed to justify violence against the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. In declaring he had "unequivocally prohibited the use of torture," Obama implicitly accused the previous administration of criminal activity, corroborating terrorist claims.
Furthermore, by promising to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Obama has laid the groundwork for future anti-American grievances. After all, with the Senate overwhelmingly refusing to fund the closure of Guantanamo, the president will struggle to keep this moralistic commitment - to the delight of Islamists.
Sadly, rather than making the case for American leadership and the global fight against terrorism, Obama apologized for it. It was the kind of display that would have befitted the Dixie Chicks, not the president of the United States.