The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Friday, June 5:

President Barack Obama came to the heart of the Arab world on Thursday to explain America and its aims to Muslims across the globe. This was The Speech. The long-promised, long-awaited moment that the new president – drawing on his father’s Islamic heritage – would begin to change unflattering perceptions of America in the Islamic world.

Obama delivered a fine speech, extending an unclenched hand to Muslims who sought peace, tolerance, human rights and justice.

He told people some things they wanted to hear, and some things they didn’t.

He called the bond between Israel and the U.S. “unbreakable,” but he also delivered some tough love: Israel, he said, must stop settlement construction.

He scolded the Islamic and Arab world for repressing women and squelching democracy. But he reiterated that America is not at war with Muslims and never will be.


The president acknowledged at the beginning that the Middle East doesn’t change with one speech, even one that is 6,000 words long.
He’s right about that.

The Middle East that Obama faces is as complex and dangerous as ever. And events are moving fast.

– In Iran, the results of the presidential election next week may determine whether that nation continues on a path to develop nuclear weapons or accepts Obama’s invitation to talk. The re-election of Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would probably mean that Obama could forget about progress in the Iranian nuclear standoff. The odds of a military confrontation would grow.

– In Lebanon, a crucial election looms Sunday. The terrorists of Hezbollah appear poised to gain a majority in the parliament. That would be a huge defeat for the U.S.-backed reform government and a grave threat to the international effort to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A tribunal that ends with a whimper in The Hague after four years of investigating would be a victory for Iranian ally Syria, long suspected of masterminding Hariri’s murder.

– The war in Iraq is winding down, but keeping the peace is still perilous.

– The war against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan is heating up and going badly for allied forces.


– American drones are attacking suspected terrorists across the border in Pakistan, and the U.S. is exhorting the Pakistani government to sweep the Taliban from the Swat valley.

– Israel’s new conservative-led government is stubbornly resisting Obama’s demand that it freeze all settlement building as a token of good faith to resume talks with the Palestinians.

– Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has extended his term in office because his Fatah faction fears a takeover of the government – and the West Bank – by its Hamas rivals if new elections are held.

– In its Gaza stronghold, Hamas preaches violence against Israel and vows never to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist.

– Even as Obama spoke, excerpts of a new audiotape message issued by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden aired. “Brace yourself for a long war against the world’s infidels and their agents,” the terrorist leader said.

Obama’s carefully modulated speech pleased many people in precincts of the Middle East. But the difficult decisions he will have to make about the U.S. role in this troubled part of the world almost guarantee that he will have to anger somebody – maybe everybody – there.

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