“All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.”
— Barack Obama in his speech in Cairo, June 4, 2009
The meeting was symbolic. As U.S. President Barack Obama met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia just days ago, he extended a hand to the Muslim world to join him in a mission to promote peace and an era of mutual understanding.
Barely more than 100 days into the office, Obama is moving swiftly to plug chinks in America’s foreign policies and fortify the threads of existing goodwill. The short stop in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, kicked off Obama’s sweeping six-day four nation trip covering the Middle East and Europe; an effort that was not only an outreach program to America’s detractors, but an effort towards simple global progress and an affirmation of America’s role in it.
His visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany was an affirmation of the tragedy of genocide and his speech on the 65th anniversary of D-Day in France was America’s nod of understanding of the shared experiences of World War II veterans from opposite shores. Couched beneath was also the plan to rebuild ties with traditional European allies. As Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington said, “It is a revolutionary approach.”
But grand visions and revolutionary thinking have characterized Obama right from the beginning of his Presidency, in policies even at home. His historic trip comes at the heels of an equally ambitious plan made out early in the year for U.S. citizens, calling for a recasting of the nation’s health care system and a call for energy independence.
Obama became the 44th President of the United States, despite little experience in politics and by leaping over the significant obstacle of racism. His dynamic rhetoric provides an apt frame for his self-projected portrait of a young and tough guy who is a family man and devoted husband. This and his personal background as an African-American with Hussein as his middle name, assist his mission for a ‘new beginning.’
Huge, enthusiastic crowds greeted him everywhere during his trip and in Cairo his speech was punctuated by rousing applause 23 times. His trip has been derided as “an apology tour” and has been touted as a rousing success. The outcome remains to be seen.
In the Cairo speech, Obama admits the fact that, “No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust.” The biggest challenge now for Obama is to translate his words into action.
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