By James Jay Carafano
After Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, the crowd walked away disappointed. Too short, was the rap. Too straightforward.
Yet today that speech is admired for both its power and beauty. It endures as one of the most memorable speeches in American history, in large part because of Lincoln’s incredible accomplishments. His presidential triumphs over adversity—both before and after the speech—added substantive gravitas and resonance to his words.
In comparison, President Obama's address today proved doubly disappointing. It lacked Lincoln’s simplicity and clarity. And the orator himself could offer no real accomplishments to give the speech weight.
Credibility is the big problem with this president’s Middle East strategy. Thursday’s speech had to build on a foundation of next to nothing.
Mr. Obama has promised to negotiate away the Iranian nuclear threat and failed.
He has promised to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace and failed.
His 2009 Cairo speech was so vacuous, it promised nothing, so I suppose you could argue he delivered on that one.
Still, it’s hard to take seriously the words of a leader who has so abjectly failed to make good on previous promises.
Further undercutting the president’s standing today is the fact that he spent most of the Arab Spring as bystander-in-chief. Mr. Obama called for Mubarak to step down after it was clear Mubarak had to step down. He turned against Syria when everyone else did. He dumped Libya faster than NBC dropped Charlie Sheen. And he completely ignored the protesters in Iran.
It’s not like he had no chance to get ahead of breaking events in the region. Weeks beforehand it was public knowledge that the so-called Facebook Intifada was scheduled for after prayers on May 15.
If Obama really wanted to lead, to act like a game-changing president, he could have come out and made a strong speech in defence of Israel before the 15th. Instead, he waited sheepishly to see how things unfolded. He “led from behind” with a speech four days after the fact.
Today’s speech provided little evidence that president really gets it on leadership in general or the Middle East in particular. This idea of promoting a “mini-Marshall Plan” for the Middle East is as stale as it is doomed. Just look at Egypt.
As my colleague Ted Bromund notes, “The amounts the administration is talking about -- $1 billion in debt forgiveness, and $1 billion in loan guarantees -- will be swallowed up by the broader collapse of the Egyptian economy. In practice, the administration’s plan is not enough to matter, but enough to create the false impression that the U.S. can simply ride to the rescue of the Egyptian economy.”
Furthermore, you can’t just dump money into un-free economies and expect that act to somehow further the cause of freedom. All that approach does is prop up the powers that be and promote corruption. Again, take a gander at what billions in aid to Egypt accomplished for the people there.
Though he spoke at length, the president failed to adequately address any of the top issues that U.S. policy should focus on in the region. The bulk of speech consisted of warmed over promises and calls for more dead-end dialogue. This was an exercise in cheerleading, not leading.
James Jay Carafano is director of the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.