President Obama addressed this last inconsistency in his 2009 speech, but then went on to justify Israel’s existence as a direct result of the Holocaust—a cynical screed that ignores history generally and all of Jewish history specifically. In fact, it was on the topic of Palestinian-Israeli peace where Obama’s manufacturing of false moral equivalences was most damaging. On balance, if in the end what Trump forgot to say about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is remembered most, then Israelis will likely toast to presidential amnesia.
Trump felt the urgent need to turn the page in the Middle East, just as Obama did eight years earlier. The key feature absent from President Trump’s new approach is the promotion of American values abroad. Otherwise, to put it in Star Trek terms, the new policy appears to boldly go where we’ve mostly gone before.
Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech was marketed as “A New Beginning,” and emphasized mutual respect as the path to partnering with the United States. In 2017, Trump, for his part, focused on mutual interests as the key ingredient. Trump also gave that approach a name: “Principled Realism.”
From this standpoint in history, it is easy to connect the dots between Obama’s 2009 vision in Cairo and the policies he pursued for two terms in office. Presumably historians will be able to look back on President Trump’s speech and see how he translated those words into policies and actions, strategies and tactics, or how he breathed life into his doctrine of “Principled Realism.”
It remains to note that within a year and a half of Obama delivering his speech to Muslims in Egypt, they rose up and deposed their leader. The Arab awakening inspired by Tunisia and Egypt continues to reverberate—often violently—throughout the region. That is not to say that Obama was responsible for the long-brewing forces in the Middle East. It is, however, a reminder that with Trump’s own speech now on the books, it would be advisable to keep one’s seat belt securely fastened with hands and feet inside the vehicle.
Matthew RJ Brodsky is a Senior Middle East Analyst at Wikistrat and former Director of Policy at the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, DC. He can be followed on Twitter: @RJBrodsky
Image: President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University. Flickr/Obama White House