On June 4, 2009, as the end of the era of Egypt’s fourth president, Hosni Mubarak, drew near, former U.S. President Barack Obama visited Egypt. In his famous Cairo speech, Obama announced a “turning point” in U.S. policy and Washington’s ties with the Arab Islamic world. There would be no more dictates, he said, but the acceptance of the will of the people, out of the understanding that all human beings share the same rational goals of “equal administration of justice” and “confidence in the rule of law.”
Historical perspective has not been particularly kind to the vision Obama presented in his speech, the regional and global repercussions of which have been destructive. It was at best naïve and romantic to compare a belligerent, unaccepting culture that openly strives to impose Islam on the world to a culture of freedom, tolerance and Western democracy.
At the root of the disaster that swept our region was Obama’s grotesque effort to portray concepts like freedom, equality for women and the pursuit of justice as a foundation of the objective values that guide all nations of the world and therefore lead them to have similar aspirations. To his mind, these are not American or Western concepts, but universal desires held by Arabs and Muslims, as well. It is for this reason Obama believes that the United States had no right to “intervene” in the “freedom” Arab nations choose for themselves.
Obama nostalgically described the landscapes of his childhood in Islamic Indonesia, with its Muslim calls to prayer, and his adolescence in Chicago, where he said the Muslim community prospered and was treated with dignity. In his speech, which reflected weakness in the face of Iranian nuclearization, there was no mention whatsoever of Palestinian terrorism. For Obama, the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hinged on the end of Israeli settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state, which he said would be just as entitled to exist as a national home for the Jews.
Obama’s convoluted messages transmitted weakness, naiveté, blindness and reflected a failure to see reality for what it is. Looking back, it is clear his positions allowed the dark forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and its metastases—the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad—to break out and sow chaos throughout the Arab world. His weak message also led to the growth of Iranian-Shi’ite radicalism, whether in the form of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq and Syria, or the Houthis in Yemen. This is how the “Arab Spring” became the Arab sewer of blood, destruction and millions of refugees from collapsing Arab states.
Last week, U.S. Middle East policy came full circle when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked Obama’s destructive policies on that same stage in Cairo. Pompeo depicted Obama’s “A New Beginning” speech as the turning point that lead to the weakening of America and its allies, the abandonment of the Arab regimes, the fall of Mubarak in 2011, the abandonment of the Iranian people who rose up against the ayatollahs, the restoration of Islamic terror, the lifting of sanctions on Iran, the strengthening of the Iranian monster in Syria and other disasters across the Middle East.
Pompeo promised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi the United States would be a force for positive change in the Middle East, which would see the expulsion of Iran and its affiliates and the end of ISIS. It may not have been as flashy a speech as Obama’s, but it did indicate a return to a sober and healthy perception of reality.
Dr. Reuven Berko was the adviser on Arab affairs to the Jerusalem district police and a writer for Israel Hayom.