Obama’s Speech To The Muslim World: The View From Jordan

At this point, the reviews are already in regarding Obama’s speech to the Muslim world and there’s little I can say that wouldn’t sound redundant. Was his tone different from that of his predecessor – also known as ‘he whose name must never be spoken”? An overwhelming yes is the only answer to that question.

However, as most have pointed out already in this region, words come cheap. Words are as abundant as sand and actions are as rare as water – and at this point, this region is in need of the latter (including the metaphor if possible). The words emerging from the corridors of the White House over the past eight years were laced with hostility towards the people of this region. The actions that complemented those words were downright villianous and their aftermath continues to resonate to this day. So an American President going to Cairo a few months in to his term, and calling for a “new beginning” is a radical step in the opposite direction.

All that is left are the actions. We continue to wait to see how Obama will put his money where his mouth is.

At the same time, taking a closer look at his words is something worth considering. Obama has positioned any change in the region as being manifested in a two-state solution. And those of us closest to this conflict, Jordanians included, are slowly beginning to realize that this solution is becoming increasingly difficult to implement. Actually, difficult may be an understatement when we consider the amount of checkpoints, walls, land confiscations, and illegal settlements Israel would be required to dismantle if such a solution were to take shape. Impossible may be a more accurate description of such an undertaking, one that Israel is likely to refuse, especially with its current right-wing government. Which of course takes us to the next point: if a two-state solution were indeed a viable option, and if indeed the current American administration is willing to put the appropriate pressure where it’s needed, who’s going to deliver? The current Palestinian government is, at its best, weakened by constant Israeli and foreign interferences, and at its worst, engulfed in its own infighting. The current Israeli government is lead by right wingers who are more likely to cut off their own ear just to spite their faces, especially if they’re required to implement all the aforementioned conditions of creating a Palestinian state.

It’s getting harder and harder for a two-state solution to come about, and Israel will never accept a one-state solution if it means an inevitable erosion of its Jewishness. Which leaves them with one option: continued occupation.

Is the new Obama administration aware of these realities? Probably. If not, then they are waddling in to a conflict in a region they know little about, and that’s something that’s never worked to America’s benefit.

However, I do give him credit for attempting to tackle this mess of an issue so early on in his presidency. Most American presidents tend to avoid it, or shelf it until it’s time to go legacy-hunting in their second term. It is an issue that only manages to piss everyone off, including congress, which makes the ability to pass any form of legislation on a president’s agenda even more difficult – and the result tends to be making matters even worse as if that were even possible. So I’m forced to give him credit for even addressing an issue that has been shelved for the better part of a decade.

As for the democratic ideals entwined within Obama’s speech: the poetry was fantastic but the delivery is another stretch away from the historic realities of this region. Obama and any other American president for that matter can preach all they want about wanting true democracy in the region, but every time they do it comes out in the form of chastising a population that has no control over those democratic values the US constantly speaks of. There is only one historic reality at the helm of this ship and that is the simple fact that the US has always, and will likely continue to financially, economically, and politically support all Arab regimes that fall in line with its policies. Those same regimes that suppress the freedoms Obama is so keen on promoting are supported if not entirely reliant on US support in order to exist and continue to suppress those very freedoms.

These two issues: the Arab-Israeli conflict and democracy seem to be the focal point of regional issues. Iraq has all but been forgotten, if not abandoned to its own subservient realities. But what ties all these issues together is one common denominator that has the ability to make words feel a little more tangible: economics.

Limiting funding to Israel and even Arab governments that refuse to undergo proper, transparent democratic reforms, is probably the easiest thing a president can do. If Obama truly wants to offer actions over words, and truly wants to make history, that, in my opinion, should be the first foreign policy move to consider.


  • Am glad to know that more Arabs are finding that the two state solution is not going to work and IS a bad idea. Israel is interested in no end negotiations. Only demographics will win at the end!

    Meanwhile, every Arab must go visit and sustain Palestinian economy!

  • I’m surprised you’re arguing that the Arab population has “no control over those democratic values the US constantly speaks of.” Of course you do, it’s just not as obvious as the power that Obama has, but it is there. I agree with your fantastic assessment otherwise, but please don’t ignore the power of people to do amazing things. I say this as an American who lived in Jordan and spent a lot of time in several of the camps there. To my surprise, I saw really poor and disadvantaged people demand respect and some means to make a living every day. This failed occasionally, but overall my time there convinced me that people, not the state and not even a president as reasonable as Obama, must demand the rights we know we deserve. It’s up to us; we cannot wait for our “leaders.”

  • @China: While I don’t deny the power for ordinary people to do extraordinary things in a country like Jordan, this is in no way representative of a democratically-empowered system that guarantees the rights of all citizens. I agree that people must stand up to the state and demand their rights, but in our part of the world, that type of action has been historically met with riot police.

    In Jordan, there are people on the grassroots level that are striving to increase citizen rights in the country, and while that’s a bold movement, we are in dire need of a government apparatus that is proactive in empowering such a movement and creating a better Jordan, rather than an apparatus that is, at best, a reluctant partner, and at worst, defensive and infantile.

    thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Sam,
    I read Nas’ article and didn’t find where he said the Two State solution is a bad solution.
    He did say it will be difficult to implement, especially with the vile right wing goverment we have in Israel now, but as an Israeli and a Jew I want to believe that Obama will show some tough love: you want money? Dismantle the settlements. He already said that friends sometimes have to tell friends the ugly and painful truth, and I hope that he will do just that.

    I agree with Nas, money talks. Israel is not the only one that gets huge sums of money from the US, as Nas pointed out – so does Egypt. However, democracy is a much more complicated issue than the Arab Israeli conflict, because, as we saw when the Bush administration insisted on democratic elections in the Palestinian authority we got Hamas. What will happen if Obama insists on democratic elections in Egypt? Wil we get the Muslim Brotherhood that assasinated Sadat and tried to kill Mubarak? Authoritarian regimes are no bed of roses, but in this case, as awful as it sounds to even think it, democracy can make things worse.

    I think Obama’s got plenty on his hands right now with the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. One bird at a time…
    Give him a chance, I think he will do great things.

  • Obama’s speech was great, I loved his talk about Islam and how America appreciates it, Though i hope he is up for his words, We don’t it to be Ink on paper.

  • Limiting funding to Israel and even Arab governments that refuse to undergo proper, transparent democratic reforms, is probably the easiest thing a president can do. If Obama truly wants to offer actions over words, and truly wants to make history, that, in my opinion, should be the first foreign policy move to consider.

    the problem with that is that it’s not something that obama has the power to do, at least he doesn’t have the power to do it unilaterally. congress, not the president, authorizes the payment of foreign aid. under current political conditions there is zero chance that any cut off of aid to israel would ever pass. if obama were so inclined, he could try to impose condition-based cut-offs, that the funding bill would include an automatic cut-off condition if israel takes some action (like expand settlements). but even then all he could do would propose a bill in congress, a bill that i doubt would actually pass.

    the truly remarkable thing about the I/P conflict is how intractable it is, no matter where you turn. the palestinians are divided with no unified leadership, the israeli political system is disfunctional and rewards bad behavior, but also the existing political structure in the u.s. only reinforces the disfunctional status-quo in both israel and the occupied territories. as nas says, the realities of the conflict are a mess. the mess also extends beyond that particular region.

  • Here in the States, Obama’s approval rating are bouncing down (http://is.gd/Zw4s) – in part because people are realizing that words are indeed cheap, and because they’re already tiring of him trying to campaign his way through problems; rather than lead our way through them.

    One very quick example, he made a promise, technically a pledge, that’d we’d all get 5 days to look at any spending bill. 4 Trillion dollars later we find out that said pledge went the way of so many other promising words.

    We’ll see if that changes, but considering his Chicago machine politician heritage, I strongly doubt it.

  • dean, i peeked at your url. aside from the fact that you’re siting a polling service that tends to trend republican, it doesn’t show obama’s approval “bouncing down.” with a standard +/-3% MOE it looks to me like his approval numbers have been stable for at least three months, possibly four. (a perfectly flat approval rating would be expected to go up and down by 3% in either direction just because of the statistical noise of polling). if obama’s “real” approval rating were around 57%, it’s been within 3 points above or below that since mid-february. that’s stable since about 1 month after inauguration day.

    not to harp on this too much, but statistical innumeracy in the way people use polling data is one of my pet peeves.

  • Upyernoz, I appreciate your opinion – but you need to take into consideration I grew up in the Nation’s Capital and actually have done some web work for a variety of pollsters. I cite Rasmussen not because they lean Republican, but because they don’t ask leading questions.

    In other words, let’s not shoot the messenger simply because their numbers don’t jive with your personal opinion – even though a real rating of 57% at this point in time of any administration is statistically very low and likely very troubling to the team of the current POTUS.

    But that aside, what’s more interesting is a recent TV address made by Mr. Obama, in which he is crediting said Cairo speech with influencing the elections in Lebanon and in Iraq.

    In other words, whatever we all think of his words, he’s claiming that they can and do strongly influence the direction of politics in the Middle East.

  • I cite Rasmussen not because they lean Republican, but because they don’t ask leading questions.

    and yet, that’s precisely their reputation. there’s been a lot written about just that (e.g.), although the “leading” issue isn’t as much a factor in a straight approval rating, since usually the question is simply do you approve or disapprove of someone (sometimes further broken down further with a “strongly” category). there’s not much room for leading in these kind of polls. the reason for the bias (and every polling firm has them) is because they use weighted samples, counting some responses more because of assumptions of what the overall population is.

    In other words, let’s not shoot the messenger simply because their numbers don’t jive with your personal opinion

    huh? i wasn’t shooting any messenger. i was pointing out that obama’s numbers are stable, even using your own data. at least they are if you are aware of how margins of error work.

    a real rating of 57% at this point in time of any administration is statistically very low and likely very troubling to the team of the current POTUS.

    now who’s relying on their own biases! i mean, look at that same page you cited above. do you see the column labeled “presidential approval index”? see how it’s a positive number all the way down the column (with one zero) and is never negative? that number compares obama’s approval rating with the average POTUS at this time in his term. your own source directly contradicts what you just said!

    anyway, i am sorry nas for this digression in your comments. i didn’t meant o hijack the comments. deepest apologies if you were annoyed by this.

  • I’m a numbers guy, so rather than a long-winded response, here are some links from which other can read and decide for themselves:

    http://is.gd/11XDR – Yahoo News – Stat of the day: According to a new poll, 29 percent of Iranians hold a positive view toward the United States, down from 34 percent in February 2008

    http://is.gd/11XGT – Electoralmap.net – 2008 Election: Pollster Report Card

    http://is.gd/11XJz – Wall Street Journal – Grading the Pollsters

    http://is.gd/11Ykk – Real Clear Politics – President Obama Job Approval

    What I take away from the above and similar articles (including those by Zogby and Gallup) is that Obama’s very popular for his words … not so much for actual actions.

    Your mileage may vary.

  • Obama speech, A step in the right direction, do we expect from America to be the Messiah of the Arab world. It’s about time for a regional awakening and believe in some form of unity and a solution based on common interests and a united front only, sadly we don’t even agree on a common currency or where to hold a meeting! Only blaa blaa blaa on satellite TV’s that critique a small nation with no water….. yes they invest in that….. No penny more…. and then off the go to Marbella or Monte Carlo

    The stage is ours to take a decisive action and move forward into a peaceful and just solution, as times has told us some politicians and stage speakers want power only and deflect their internal problems, immorality and corruption on the expense of their people or blame others only for their misfortunes…..

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