Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama's Bulletin Board Cairo Speech

Once again President Obama's speechwriters did a masterful job on today's speech in Cairo directed at the Muslim world. I enjoyed all the references, from the Koran and elsewhere, on Islam as a religion of tolerance, peace, and knowledge. And I certainly detected some themes from Vali Nasr, an Iran expert and former professor of mine who advised on the speech. 
But it seemed too busy to me, as if it was trying to be all things to all people, groups, or advisers. The speech had seven major issue areas: violent extremism; Israel-Palestine; nuclear weapons/Iran; democracy; religious freedom; women's rights; and economic development and opportunity. I can imagine the writing process where a group of writers and advisers gather in a room and each pins several dozen issues they want included in a bulletin board before gradually taking those down they didn't absolutely have to have. I wish they had been able to pull a few more. Not that all of those issues aren't very important, but it jumbled the overall message, that America's interests are aligned with the Muslim world on many core values. 
It was trying to be something to everyone, and while it did an admirable job of that I think the process weakened some of the core message. And as many have noted, the only actions he promised or proposed were more discussions. The messages were good, but it could have been stronger if they were less muddled and if they were backed by stronger actions. 

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