It’s one promise Barack Obama appears hell-bent on keeping — just not to the American people. According to Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Obama will continue to recklessly pursue a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, but as a means to keeping the promise to the Muslim world he made during his 2009 speech at Cairo University in Egypt.
Whether the speech can be called historic, it is certainly unique among American presidents. No previous president ever ventured on to foreign soil to publicly throw a strong ally under the bus, as Obama did when he sacrificed the future of the sovereign Jewish state of Israel by giving his unprecedented support for the Palestinians and recognizing Iran’s right to nuclear power. He also used the occasion to downplay the role of terrorism, making Hamas look like a boys glee club.
In a recent article in Foreign Policy, Oren said of the Cairo University speech:
These pronouncements presaged what was, in fact, a profound recasting of U.S. policy. While reiterating America’s support for Israel’s security, Obama stridently criticized its settlement policy in the West Bank and endorsed the Palestinian claim to statehood. He also recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, upheld the principle of nonproliferation, and rejected former President George W. Bush’s policy of promoting American-style democracy in the Middle East. “No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons,” he said. “No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.” In essence, Obama offered a new deal in which the United States would respect popularly chosen Muslim leaders who were authentically rooted in their traditions and willing to engage with the West.
Whenever Israeli leaders were perplexed by the administration’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Syria — severed by Bush after the assassination of Lebanese president Rafik Hariri — or its early outreach to Libya and Iran, I would always refer them to that text. When policymakers back home failed to understand why Obama stood by Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who imprisoned journalists and backed Islamic radicals, or Mohamed Morsi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and briefly its president, I would invariably say: “Go back to the speech.” Erdogan and Morsi were both devout Muslims, democratically elected, and accepting of Obama’s outstretched hand. So, too, was Hassan Rouhani, who became Obama’s partner in seeking a negotiated settlement of the Iranian nuclear dispute.
The problem according to Oren is that Obama was rebuffed the American people and Isreal in every single outreach to the Arab world he attempted. He may have promised an American-Arab World reconciliation, but as his presidency has dragged on, relations with the Arab world worsened:
Back in 2007, President Bush succeeded in convening Israeli and Arab leaders, together with the representatives of some 40 states, at the Annapolis peace conference. In May 2015, Obama had difficulty convincing several Arab leaders to attend a Camp David summit on the Iranian issue. The president who pledged to bring Arabs and Israelis together ultimately did so not through peace, but out of their common anxiety over his support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and his determination to reach a nuclear accord with Iran.
Israel was totally surprised by Obama’s announcement that he had been secretly negotiating with a country dedicated to her destruction, but as Oren wrote, perhaps Israel shouldn’t have been surprised, because Iran is Obama’s last chance to make good on that speech made in Cairo a little more than six years ago:
Only Iran, in fact, still holds out the promise of sustaining Obama’s initial hopes for a fresh start with Muslims. “[I]f we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion,” he told the New Yorker, “you could see an equilibrium developing between [it and] Sunni … Gulf states.” The assumption that a nuclear deal with Iran will render it “a very successful regional power” capable of healing, rather than inflaming, historic schisms remained central to Obama’s thinking. That assumption was scarcely shared by Sunni Muslims, many of whom watched with deep concern at what they perceived as an emerging U.S.-Iranian alliance…. Six years after offering to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” President Obama has seen that hand repeatedly shunned by Muslims. His speeches no longer recall his Muslim family members, and only his detractors now mention his middle name. And yet, to a remarkable extent, his policies remain unchanged.
Liberals criticized George W. Bush because of their belief that he refused to change with the changing international situation. But Bush did totally overhaul his Iraq strategy with the surge which eventually won the war (before Obama lost it again). Because Obama refuses to adapt and change his unsuccessful outreach program, he is leading this country and our allies in the Middle East down the road toward a nuclear powder keg that could conceivably detonate before he leaves office.
Cross-posted at The Lid