The speech that President Obama needs to give tomorrow, but won’t:
My fellow Americans, today I want to speak to you about the events in the Middle East and beyond. Almost two years ago, in a speech in Cairo, I outlined my vision for a new American policy toward the Muslim world.
It’s fair to say that at that time America’s relations with the Arab and Muslim world were troubled and in profound disarray. Particularly after what I had earlier called America’s “dumb” war in Iraq, much of the region was alarmed and dismayed over what they recognized as a unilateral US attempt to impose democracy by force, an action that brought civil war and regional conflict to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Many countries in the region, including Iran and Syria, felt—not without cause—that they were next in line in an American campaign to transform the region by forcing regime changes. Other nations, too—Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia among them—harbored similar concerns. My predecessor’s threats against Iran, which he labeled as part of an “axis of evil,” had brought US relations with Tehran to the brink of confrontation. And underlying all of it, America’s failure to adopt an even-handed approach toward the conflict between Israel and Palestine had convinced many people in the region that the United States was not sympathetic to their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It’s no secret that, in 2009, public opinion toward the United States was at an all-time low.
In my Cairo speech, to those in the region who were alarmed at America’s unilateralism in Iraq and elsewhere, I said that, in those countries, “We pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources.” In that Cairo speech, and in my inaugural address and in a special message for the Iranian New Year, I reached out to Iran, offering to treat the Islamic Republic of Iran with dignity and respect. I acknowledged America’s and the West’s debt to Islamic civilization, quoted the Koran, and said, then, “I have known Islam on three continents.… Islam is part of America.” And on Palestine, I said: "The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."
Sadly, we haven’t delivered.
On Iraq and Afghanistan, we have failed. Though we’ve reduced most of our military presence in Iraq, we’ve pressed the new Iraqi government to allow a substantial contingent of American forces to remain there beyond the deadline at the end of 2011 for our complete withdrawal, and we’ve escalated, to no avail, our war in Afghanistan. On Iran, we failed. When our engagement with Iran ran into difficulty, we didn’t try hard enough to sustain it, and instead we fell back into the familiar pattern of pressure tactics, economic sanctions, and confrontation. And on the Arab-Israeli front, we failed. Sadly, the deadlock there is, if anything, worse today than it was then. If people in that part of the world, struggling now to improve their lives and change their rulers, no longer have faith in the United States, I can’t blame them.