President Obama speech in Cairo last week has been largely hailed and hardly scrutinized.

Here’s a bit of both, stuff that caught my attention…

Look at this piece by Andrew Sullivan. About Obama’s genius in stating the obvious. It’s an interesting article.

For one thing, though some of Obama’s points in the Mideast speech
were made previously by George W. Bush, Obama has street cred and Bush
certainly didn’t.

It’s that biography that made a speech that echoed some
of George W Bush’s themes reach a critical mass of credibility. But in
many respects this was not a speech, as traditionally understood. It
was an intervention.

This is actually a good point. Stay with it. 

The obvious critique that this was just a set of words
seems to me to miss the point. An intervention begins with words
because it requires the actions of others. You don’t get an addict to
go into recovery by cuffing him and throwing him into an ambulance. You
talk to him and his family and speak calmly about what everyone in the
room knows to be true but no one will face. So, for me, the core
sentence of the speech was obvious: “It is time for us to act on what
everyone knows to be true.”

Okay. Sometimes stating the obvious, especially with rhetorical flourish, can be startling. Or, as Sullivan puts it…

For Obama to state this so plainly, so simply and so
urgently as the first item of business in his foreign policy is a
remarkable thing. He is doing with the Middle East what he did with
America: if he explains it all clearly enough, maybe some actions will
be taken.

But wait….back up a line or two before the praise for Obama
schooling us all by telling us what “we all know”. To whom is all of
this so obvious?

We all know that Iran has every right to peaceful
nuclear energy; equally we know that Israel has every right to demand
real and reliable assurances that such technology will not be directed
at exterminating the Jewish state.

This is a misrepresentation of the huge importance of that part of Obama’s speech.

Here’s a transcript of part of Fox News Sunday’s panel discussion on this, and that’s where the scrutiny begins.

[President Obama] basically gave what was the weakest
statement ever given by a president on the Iranian nuclear issue. He
said nothing about enrichment. He didn’t even mention uranium
enrichment. And he made it sound as if the entire dispute is over the
interpretation of the nuclear proliferation treaty.

Specifically, they’re referring to a section of Obama’s speech that got little attention. (video and transcript here)

And a panelist says…

when you read those three paragraphs, they’re really
startling. I mean, there are three U.N. security resolutions which the
Bush administration went to a huge amount of trouble to try to get the
Europeans signed on. The Russians and Chinese signed on. He doesn’t
mention them.

Iran is in violation with its enrichment program of U.N. — this
isn’t American Bush, you know, imperialism. This is the U.N. Security
Council, and he doesn’t mention that fact. He really — he is really
conceding an Iranian nuclear weapon and then the question becomes does
Israel accept that.

Andrew Sullivan’s conclusion:

When you see how many delicate balancing acts are
required to pull the grand bargain off in the region, scepticism is
entirely justified. But I don’t believe Obama is naive about the
difficulty of the task. He knows that unless a real attempt is made to
avert peacefully a catastrophic nuclear arms race in the region, to
save the Israelis and Palestinians from themselves and to reconstitute
the image of America in the psyches of a vast young generation of
Muslims, we face a darkness that could spread very fast globally and
engulf us all.

And we have to wonder what kind of intervention he has planned for that.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....