I have no doubt that Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo today will not have gone down well amongst American conservatives. In fact many of them will be appalled by it. How long before someone in the right-wing blogosphere writes something about how terrible, if unsurprising, it was to see an American President protstrate himself in such humiliating fashion. All the right’s worst fears have com to pass! It’s like Jimmy Carter has returned to the White House!
And, I guess, you could pull some lines from the speech that made it seem as though Obama was “apologising” for the United States while rarely putting as much emphasis on the sins of the muslim world. But that would be to miss the point: the arab and muslim worlds don’t need to be lectured by the United States, they need to be engaged. And that was Obama’s point. In fact, reading his speech, you’d describe it as a talk rather than a speech and certainly not as a lecture. Admitting mistakes is a means of gaining credibility and persuading other people that you’re worth listening to.
But this was also a speech born of confidence. In the first place, Obama dared his domestic critics to do their worst, knowing that they would find plenty of material – however twisted their interpretation might be – from this address. It was a speech designed to be listened to, in the arab world even if that risked having it misconstrued at home. It was as though Obama decided that, this time anyway, he could ignore his domestic audience, knowing that, for once, it was much less important than the international audience.
Secondly, perhaps only a freshman President still enjoying the fruits of victory and, despite the economic times, high approval ratings would have dared make such a speech.