I think Barack Obama is clearly prioritizing mending ties with Muslims, but at the same time undermined himself by spending 9 minutes talking about the Israelis, 3 minutes talking about the Iranians, and absolutely no time talking about Lebanon.
Settlements are a talking point, because they simply are not the most important issue Israelis and Palestinians concern themselves with. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have never realistically considered impeding or uprooting major settlements, especially the ones that continue to grow as suburbs of cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The President has picked an issue he thinks Israel can give some leeway on, compared to security and Jerusalem, that the US can used to win points in Muslim public opinion.
The Obama Administration was designed to build up US ties with Muslim countries in order to make the pursuit of American goals much easier by ending Muslim opposition to US policies. It will be slow in coming and I doubt that after four years Muslims will overwhelmingly support American policies, but it seems to be that they will support them 5 to 6 times more than they did under George W Bush.
But if he was thinking Muslims would understand US policies better by emphasizing the points that he did in this speech, he is absolutely wrong. US goals of undermining nuclear proliferation by Iran and North Korea will not get any more tension than they already have, since he spent only three minutes on the issue, and scarcely mentioned Iranians.
But Muslims around the world, even Sunni Arabs, do not conceive of an Iran that would ever use nuclear weapons, especially against Sunni Arab countries. The Obama Administration banked raising poll numbers on being stern on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I doubt that Muslims will ever take this as the major initiative the US needs to undertake to earn back any respect.
Even the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, as he described with as much detail as he could in Cairo, nor an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan, will placate public opinion in Muslim countries.
Iraq and Afghanistan are recent issues that result from past issues that are yet unresolved. Issues with Israel are not directly related to the United States, and the idea that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will solve the problems for Israelis in their foreign relations and domestic relations between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs is also naive – but this is again an Israeli concern that the United States cannot effectively relate to as the world’s most influential empire and not as a small embattled state like Israel.
For the US, issues of ties to governments like Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, and eventually to Iran will be the issue. It’s those ties to despotic regimes, just like Barack Obama emphasized in regards to the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq, are what irritate Muslims. There is consequently a double-edged sword in fostering ties with certain countries if those countries never make progress toward change.
He took a few important shots at Muslim countries and European countries on major issues. Firstly, he highlighted Bosnia and Darfur. For Darfur, Egypt has been criticized for its ties to the Sudanese regime and especially defending President Omar al-Bashir. The entire Arab League has vowed to defend him from the warrant issued for his arrest by the International Court of Justice, an amazing policy considering they implemented it while trying to criticize Israel for its Gaza operation, which killed 300 TIMES LESS the amount of people than Bashir’s operations in Darfur the last six years, and in fact better targeted enemy fighters than the Sudanese military ever has.
Toward Europe, he attacked the idea of banning Muslim hijab in public places, especially schools, and said he would take to task anyone who tried to take away the right of Muslim women to wear it. He also said it was wrong to think that women that do cover their hair, or wear any other conservative clothing, are in any sense lacking in equality compared to their male counterparts – the emphasis should be on their opportunity in their countries and not whether common culture demands a more conservative style. (This I thought was an interesting point, because as a sound bite it doesn’t just apply to Muslims.)
Overall, there is a lot more to be said in the implications of his differing policies toward Iran and North Korea, and for that matter toward Israel and South Korea as American allies. There is obviously so much more, and many more issues with settlements that the Obama Administration is instigating more than it realizes, especially on natural growth.