Friday, May 26, 2017

Trump's Message to the Middle East Couldn't Be More Different from Obama's - Matthew RJ Brodsky

President Trump marked another turning of the page from the Barack Obama years with his highly anticipated speech delivered in Saudi Arabia on his first trip overseas. While there were some similarities with Barack Obama’s major address on June 4, 2009 in Cairo, Egypt—such as a willingness to work with those who responded in kind to America’s “outstretched hands”—most striking were the differences. Generally speaking, and put in more colloquial terms, the differences between the two approaches and speeches can best be explained by the following summation.

In 2009, Obama essentially told the Muslim world that he understood them and that their blemishes were similar to America’s; that he was aware of and sorry about America’s contribution to their extremism; and that the United States would be more tolerant in the future—that with respect for each other, a new partnership could be built.

In 2017, President Trump essentially told the gathered leaders that he is aware of the problem in Islam, but he’s not going to get into a debate over why and how it happened. The fact is that it is their problem to deal with and he’ll hold their political leaders responsible for handling their business. There exists a common set of interests upon which a new partnership can be built.

Audience and Agenda
In true realist form, Trump’s speech was designed to speak directly to the leaders of these countries. He’s now seen their faces and has their names and, perhaps more importantly, their telephone numbers, which he can now call to work on an assortment of challenges.

Contrast that with Obama, who spoke over Muslim leaders’ heads and directly to “the people of Egypt” and Muslims at large. He sought to create a “partnership between America and Islam” that was always a problem. An American president is the leader of a country with a constitution that promotes freedom of religion and favors none above the other. America and its representatives can make deals and reach understanding with governments and partner with their people—even with the adherents of a religion in a particular country. But an American president cannot partner with a religion. Trump indicated early on, “I stand before you as a representative of the American people”—he was not there as the representative of Christendom. He went on to meet the pope a few days later, as a guest of the Vatican.

Whereas George W. Bush pursued a “Freedom Agenda” in the aftermath of 9/11, which meant promoting democracy abroad as a means to address the underlying causes of Islamism, Trump never mentioned the word “freedom” or “democracy” at all. Nor was it a prominent feature in Obama’s speech: “No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.” One may therefore surmise that America’s costly foreign adventures are a thing of the past. For Obama, that decision was initially designed to leave a far lighter American footprint in the Middle East and pivot to Asia; for Trump it meant that “we are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.” - Read More, National Interest


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