Obama's speech to Muslims, which he made during his trip to the Middle East last week, may have seemed like it was made to show America shares "principles of justice and progress, tolerance and dignity of all human beings,"- but more precisely, this was a speech to the Muslim world that Obama made so America could ensure access to Islamic oil.
Ask any foreign policymaker or analyst in America and you will likely get he or she to agree that typically, if you substitute one individual for another and if the setting remains the same, so too does the foreign policy. Additionally, foreign policy has always been about bargaining and compromise, a result of a political process.
Obama, whose campaign slogan could have been "Continuity We Can Believe In,"- is just the right statesman for guaranteeing future access to resources and cooperation with American interests. He has made his actions about finding middle ground on issues so that compromises and bargains which will satisfy as many as possible might be achieved.
Giving a speech to the Muslim world was an act of power--Obama was using what Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye Jr. call "soft power"- to get a desired outcome and to lay the foundation for the achievement of goals "through attraction rather than coercion."-
Al-Azhar, the university where Obama gave his speech, claimed it was the "highest Sunni Muslim authority"- and asserted that it was "a fortress of Islam"- in a statement given to Agence France Presse (AFP) on February 18, 2000.
The university suggested it was a "reflection of true Islam, moderate, tolerant and thoughtful"- and an institution "which rejects and condemns fanaticism and terrorism."-
The speech, despite Obama's heritage, was given in Egypt, not Indonesia, which is the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world with over 300 million Muslims. (Compare that to the less than 80 million Muslims in Egypt.)
The administration's decision to go with Egypt over Indonesia simply indicates there was major geopolitical value to giving a speech at a major Islamic forum in that location on the globe.
First off, Juan Cole writes in his latest book Engaging the Muslim World, "Americans on the whole like Egypt, giving it a 62 percent favorability rating in one recent poll. Younger Americans like Egypt even more, with those aged eighteen to thirty-four being 69 percent favorable toward it."- (Contrast that with U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq which receive only 20 to 31 percent and the Palestine Authority and Iran, which earn "14 percent and 8 percent favorable views respectively."-)
If one considers this to be just as much a speech to the Muslim world as it was a speech to Americans skeptical and anxious with Islam. Cole illuminates the reality that Egyptian tourism established largely for Westerners and its actions as a "reliable U.S. geopolitical and military ally"- since making peace with Israel in 1978 make it a place of American interest and a starting point for the renewal of reconciliation in the Middle East.
Secondly, Egyptians overwhelmingly (88 percent) think groups like al-Qaeda that attack civilians violate precepts of Islam, according to a World Public Opinion report by the Program of International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).
The report also suggests that Egyptians are less likely than Pakistanis, Indonesians, or Moroccans to support attacks on the United States (4 to 7 percent support).
Geopolitics and the favorable opinions Egyptians have toward taking on "violent extremists"- explain the location. What explains the fact that Obama ignored Mubarek's unpopularity and faults as an anti-democratic dictator may be the fact that, in January during Israel's bombardment of Gaza, he shut down the Rafah crossing on the border between Gaza and Egypt and watched "callously as Palestinians starved on his doorstep."-
Egypt allowed for Obama to not stray too far away from being wholly supportive of Israel. It also allowed Obama to make his case to Muslims that they have shared interest in the world.
The Obama Administration needed to calm Muslim anxiety toward the U.S. that was created as a result of the Bush Administration's foreign policy failures. It needed to convince Muslims that the U.S. will withdraw from Iraq soon, only intends to keep troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan until "violent extremists"- are eliminated, and it will no longer "accept the legitimacy of continued Israel settlements."-
This all had to be done to ensure further access and cooperation with countries or allies which America depends on for petroleum.
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