Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Obama and Truman

I was writing my paper on Truman and the creation of the State of Israel, and I found myself revisiting two speeches by Obama. I thought I'd share with you the introduction and the conclusion to my paper. The middle of my paper gives an analysis of the role Truman played in the creation of the state of Israel. I'd like to revisit Truman in more depth in the near future. According to the research for my paper, Truman was much more interested in gaining Jewish votes than actually supporting the creation of the State of Israel. I found great similarity between President Truman and President Obama.

In June, President Obama’s speech in Cairo sought extend a hand to the Muslim world and remind the world of the American stance on Israel. “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”( President Obama).

He spoke of finding common with Muslims and working together to find peaceful and thoughtful solutions. He reminded his Muslim audience that although he was born a Christian, much of his family in Kenyan and he had much personal experience with the Muslim world. Thus, he had a deeper understanding of their perspective. “So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't." He then requested that the Muslim world dispel the same penchant for stereotyping Americans as Americans should expel about Muslims.

When he finished speaking of problems with the Muslim world, he turned his attention to Israel. Obama then connected anti-Semitism and the Holocaust to the creation of the state of Israel. “America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied." In other words, after all the pain the Jews have suffered they deserve a homeland. He warned the Muslim world, “Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve."

However, Obama didn’t stop at Israel, he then turned his attention to the plight of the Palestinian people. “Let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own." Thus, according to Obama, while American remains Israel’s alley, they also want to fight for the Palestinians:

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Obama)

Obama’s desire to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is not unique. Like many American Presidents before him, Obama proclaimed his desire to heal the conflict. However, by taking both sides, he never really has to take a strong side for either. He’s come into his Presidency during an unpopular war. He’s walking in the shoes of a man hated by most of the world. Thus, he seeks to find a solution that will keep both Israel his ally, make the Muslim world his friend, and continue as the hero to the American people.

Exactly one year prior to his Cairo Speech, and a few months before the election then Senator Obama spoke at AIPAC, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “The speech comes the day after he secured enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination and become the first African-American candidate for president. In these prepared remarks provided by his campaign, Obama tries to allay doubts that some Jewish voters have expressed about his candidacy.” (NPR) Like Truman, in order to get elected Obama needed Jewish vote. Like Truman, Obama stressed the plight of the Jewish people:

I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was 11 years old. I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve their identity through faith, family and culture. Year after year, century after century, Jews carried on their traditions, and their dream of a homeland, in the face of impossible odds. (Senator Obama)

Obama underscores the horrors the Holocaust and the importance of the Jews finding a home away from such atrocities. “We know that the establishment of Israel was just and necessary, rooted in centuries of struggle and decades of patient work. But 60 years later, we know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield, and as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security.” Throughout the speech, he emphasized the safety of Israel. “That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat — from Gaza to Tehran.” Although he explains that he supports two states: Israeli and Palestinian. The Palestinian state cannot come at the price of Israeli security. “The Palestinian people must understand that progress will not come through the false prophets of extremism or the corrupt use of foreign aid. The United States and the international community must stand by Palestinians who are committed to cracking down on terror and carrying the burden of peacemaking.” Finally, he highlights the need for diplomacy in order to create peace.

His speech in front of a Jewish audience before being elected President focuses completely on the interests of the Jewish people and Israel. Yet, one year later when he gives his Cairo speech as the new American President in front of the Muslim world extending a hand of friendship, he talks about Israel, but he also stresses the negative role Israel plays in the plight of the Palestinians in a manner he never used in his AIPAC speech:

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress. (President Obama)

Just as Truman used the Jewish lobby to gain votes in New York, Obama used the Jewish lobby in order to gain votes for the President. Now that he’s President, will he, like Truman only give lip-service to the security of Israel, or does he truly intend to keep them safe? Underneath it all, Truman never really supported the State of Israel. Is this true for Obama? Is his Cairo speech an indication of a shift in policy or will he, also like Truman, eventually protect his relationship with Israel before he protects his new friendship with the Muslim world?

Obama's Cairo Speech Transcript:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/04/obama-speech-in-cairo-vid_n_211215.html?view=screen
Obama's AIPAC Speech Transcript:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91150432

I urge you to look at the two speeches side-by-side. Please take a moment to comment if you see anything new or worthwhile!

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