Saturday, October 27, 2012

Obama Apologized ?

I am dumbfounded that the story seems to be gaining salience among many Americans that President Obama went to the Middle East to apologize.  No, he went to the Middle East to call for democracy -- undermining the power of the many dictators in the region.

President Obama went to the oldest university in the world, Al Azhar, a center of learning for Muslims of all nations, in a country ruled by a dictator and explained what democracy meant, and called for the rule of law and responsible government in the countries of the Middle East.  
The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. …
 And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God.  These things we share.  This is the hope of all humanity.  …
 But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere….
 Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.  Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.  America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.  And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.  So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power:  You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.  Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.  [for more see
That was on June 4, 2009.  What happened next should not be considered direct responses to Obama’s speech but as expressions of the broadly shared hopes for responsible leadership of the sort that Obama spoke of.  It reflected a longing throughout the Middle East for fair and just governments that are accountable to the people they govern, the kind of government Obama described.  

Here are some signs that Obama’s speech touched a chord.

*  On June 12, 8 days after Obama’s speech, Iran exploded.  The government held a presidential election on that day and most Iranians believed their candidate, Mir-Hussein Mousavi, had won by a land-slide.  In fact, they were astounded to hear, even before the polls had closed, that the current President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, declared the winner.  That night people came out on the streets, not [yet] to formally demonstrate but to discuss how this could have happened.  But the government reaction was so severe that within days many people were clashing with government-paid goons.  Eventually, they would begin to chant “Death to the Dictator” in the streets of Tehran.  The Iranians were demanding the just and authentic democracy that Obama had called for.
*  A year and a half after the speech, almost to the day, the “Arab Spring” began.  It began on December 18 in Tunisia when Mohamed Bouazizi, in a fit of frustration at the way he had been treated by a local official, set himself on fire in a street of Sidi Bouzid.  The shock of the event instigated a riot that spread throughout the country, and by January 14 President  Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a dictator that was broadly presumed to be secure, fled the country.  

*  Demonstrations of a similar sort were already in motion in Egypt and by February 11, 2011 President Hosni Mubarak was out of power.  
*  That same week demonstrations began in Libya against Muammar Ghaddafi.  It turned into a long, drawn out civil war that eventually took Ghaddafi’s life in October. 
*  In the mean time Yemen was similarly wrought, and after much conflict President Ali Abdullah Saleh was obliged to relinquish much of his power. 
*  Demonstrations elsewhere were less successful: The struggle to dethrone President Bashar Al-Assad is still going on; the struggle against King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has been ruthlessly crushed.

My point is that Obama’s speech seemed well to express the desires of the frustrated peoples of the Middle East, especially of the young people.  

Apology?  No.  Rather, Obama's call for democracy marked a dramatic shift in the aspirations of the peoples of the region, who had long suffered under cruel dictatorships.

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