Thursday, June 4, 2009

Too much to talk about

Instant text messages. Second by second updates to an online audience of 20 million through Twitter and Facebook. Live broadcasts in four languages.

President Obama is very intent on getting his message across today, it seems.

Such is the nous of Obama's communications team, and the infatuation with his oratory, that we are expecting his speech in Cairo this afternoon to be all things to all people.

Defining. Clear. Soft in tone but sharp in intent. A fresh start in America's relations with the Muslim world.

A signpost for the way forward.

But The Board will be very surprised if we come away from this display of rapprochement any the wiser about how America intends to remove illegal settlements in the West Bank, or bring about an end to Iran's nuclear enrichment programme, or how it will stabilise the Swat valley, or how it will break down the hard, corrosive feelings that young Muslim men in Tehran and Kabul and Bradford have been taught to hold towards the United States.

Even for Obama, there aren't enough hours in the day or words on the tongue for that.

Of course, he is too succinct a political operator to hammer out aggressive speeches and see who explodes first.

He has already made sympathetic overtures to the Arab world, and will do so again today. He has signalled his intent to move US heavy industry onto 15 per cent renewable energy. He has sought to map a future of co-operation, if not alliance, with China.

So reckless and abrasive was the Bush Administration's eight years of diplomatic terror that Obama may have to spend his first four years simply talking everyone into talking.

But eventually, he's going to have to realise that the ears of the Middle East won't be lulled into consensus. Some day, he is going to have to condemn, reject, and set the will of his administration against the Israeli aggression that has reduced the Palestinian people to cannon fodder, and the Pakistani corruption that has created a failed state.

We're all going to like the sound of Obama's speech today, but we must look forward to the day when some people will not.

That's when we'll know we're making progress.
P.S. Link to full text of the speech from the Washington Post here. I told you it'd be a biggun.

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