Obama’s Cairo Speech

by Brien Jackson

You can read the full transcript here.

There’s simultaneously a lot to say about the speech, and not a lot to say about it, which I guess is a sign that it was very good diplomacy. The remarks about terrorism were boilerplate and to be expected, the remarks about religious freedom and women’s rights underwhelming. It was interesting to see the President talking about the importance of democracy in Egypt, a country notorious for its less-than-liberal-democratic system, and I doubt many people missed the reference, but, again, it was fairly mild stuff, probably easily shrugged off by the Mubarak government.

The remarks about Israel, namely the settlements, are very important, however. The President of the United States, in a major diplomatic speech the White House has been hyping since before the inauguration, went on record opposing further settlement building in the occupied territory, including so-called natural growth. This comes after both the Vice-President, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Secretary of State, both carrying some individual heft in their own right, took similar positions. This means that it’s not only the administration’s position that settlement growth must hault, but that real capital is being put behind it. This is real pressure on Bibi to halt settlement growth, which puts him in something of a hard place. Most Israelis don’t care much about, or for, the settlements, and would probably not appreciate their government slighting their most important ally over them. But the largest minor partner in Bibi’s coalition cares about their growth very much, and might very well sink Bibi’s tenure if Netanyahu reneges on expanding development. Obama has, in other words, put Netanyahu in something of an impossible spot politically, which suggests that rumors the Obama administration were looking for new Israeli partners might have had something to them.