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June 5, 2009

Obama in Cairo

Roy Meachum

The tone was different but the words were mostly the same we've heard before. The president traveled to Cairo University Thursday for what was billed as his administration's pronouncement on the Middle East. A White House spokesman announced in advance there would be little new; he was right.


Indeed, the most electrifying aspect of his performance was doubtlessly his name: Barack Hussein Obama sounds nothing like George W. Bush. The back-to-back chief executives follow, however, the same policies as their predecessors over the years. And that's the nut of the problem. In his speech, the American leader naturally listed first what is the most important to American people: reducing the threat of terrorism. Mr. Obama had little choice.


Whatever slant this country's people take towards that region, for Muslims the fate of the Palestinians dominates their agenda. It foments rebellion against American-friendly regimes and contributes a major source of al-Qaeda's recruits.


The U.S. failure to criticize the Jewish state's brutal occupation actions toward human beings brought into the act Egypt's long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak. As the recipient of America's billions he didn't venture very far. He never does. But all that money continues to flow to Mr. Mubarak despite his suppression of civil rights including persecution and beatings of his political opponents.


That is why many observers questioned the president's choice of Egypt for his first major address on the Muslims and the Middle East. The most populated Islamic nation is Indonesia; that would never do because America's problems are not in Asia, although that's where Pakistan is located.


To give Mr. Obama's advisers credit, he did speak up for the Palestinians, while criticizing their violence toward the Jewish state. But there was no condemnation in the United Nations' manner for Israel's Gaza Strip massacre and wholesale destruction.


To beat the president to the punch, as the saying goes, the day before the speech Jerusalem's lobby in Washington let the press know that the younger George Bush already told them West Bank settlements were okay. Through Secretary of State James Baker, the elder Mr. Bush had condemned the outposts as illegal annexation.


As expected, this president told Israel to cool it, when it comes to building on what the world regards as Palestinian territory. But that's as far as he went. By way perhaps of expiation for chiding Israel, Mr. Obama travels today to Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp in eastern Germany.


There was absolutely no mention of today's anniversary.


Forty-two years ago this morning masses of planes appeared above Cairo: Israel launched the Six-Day War, which caught its neighbors and the world by surprise. Egypt was in total disarray: I was told how artillery cadets from the military college wandered around the Sinai; they were looking for cannon they never located. Things were so confused. When it was over, Israel possessed all Jerusalem, Syria's Golen heights and the Jordanian West Bank. Over the years it defied all cries to give them back. U.N. Resolution 242 officially made their occupation illegal.


The war cost 34 Navy officers and crew and wounded over 170 civilians and sailors aboard the U.S.S. Liberty. In separate attacks aircraft badly damaged – but did not sink – the technical research vessel that monitored communications. Washington wanted to know what was going on but backed off from launching an official protest, although later Jerusalem paid money to the victims. Because of the U.S.S. Liberty I will remain a life-long skeptic about Israel and all its claims.


Reading President Obama's entire speech did not give me confidence he will set right what has been terribly wrong in the Middle East for several generations.


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