Obama: US "Not At War With Islam"

In a speech filled with the right ideas, Obama enunciated a new approach to foreign relations that is long overdue. Speaking at the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Obama remarked:
"The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. (Applause.) In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people."
Such a sentiment unites the US and the Muslim world in resisting the perniciousness of extremism. This unity of purpose, not a threat of recrimination, is what is needed for nations harboring terrorism to feel invested in its eradication.
"I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree."
Obama's pledge to undertake a multilateral approach is perhaps a little less noble than it sounds. In Robert Kagan's book, Of Paradise and Power, the author contends that Europe's inclination toward multilaterality is a consequence not of moral superiority but of weakness. If individual European nations were capable of projecting power unilaterally, they would. Bush II should have realized that the age of unchallenged US interventionism has passed. Its adversaries are strengthening and it now stands precariously at the brink of fiscal collapse.

Obama's approach is certainly more sanguine than Bush II's. While it is difficult to know its true source, this much is true: the era when the primacy of the US's interests in dictating international relations is no longer. The multipolar landscape that replaces it is riskier and less certain to the US and its allies, but even its allies may benefit from this more cooperative

Obama continued:
"We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world -- including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country -- I know, because I am one of them."
This personal identification with Muslims is politically courageous of Obama, and sure to be appreciated in the Muslim world. It reminds me of something Andrew Sullivan wrote in the
Atlantic in December 2007:
[Imagine that] "Barack Hussein Obama -- is the new face of America. In one simple image, America's soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you want the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama's face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

"To be black and white, to have belonged to a non-religious home and a Christian church, to have attended a majority-Muslim school in Indonesia and a black church in Chicago, to be more than one thing and sometimes not fully anything -- this is an increasingly common experience for Americans, including many racial minorities. Obama expresses such a conflicted but resilient identity before he even utters a word. And this complexity, with its internal tensions, contradictions, and moods may increasingly be the main thing that Americans have in common."
Lastly, Obama carefully avoided passing judgment on Turkey's genocide against Armenians during World War I, and again exposed the vulnerability of the US's past posturing, noting that the US "still struggles with the legacy of our past treatment of Native Americans." Obama's frank disclosure of America's vulnerability communicates volumes about Obama's personal strength, pragmatism, and constructiveness.

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