Fareed Zakaria on Obama's second speech to the Muslim world
Palestinian security forces listen to US President Barack Obama as he delivers a speech at Cairo University, at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Jenin on June 4, 2009.
May 12th, 2011
07:42 AM ET

Fareed Zakaria on Obama's second speech to the Muslim world

The following is an excerpt from my interview yesterday with CNN's John King.

John King: The White House announced today that President Obama is planning a major address, perhaps as early as next week, with a goal of reaching out to Muslims around the world….What's the president's biggest challenge now? 



Fareed Zakaria: What I think he's trying to do is to interpret events for the American public and for a larger global public. That was his intention with Cairo 1, as it will be for this speech - let's call it Cairo 2.0, even though it isn't going to be given in Cairo.

Presidents are often remembered for the way in which they provide some meaning to events. 

Woodrow Wilson interpreted World War I and America's participation for America, for the world and for history.

I think President Obama sees the Arab awakening as a similarly historic event. I think he wants to try to present an interpretation.

I know that this idea of a speech was in the works long before Osama bin Laden was assassinated.

Bin Laden, of course, provides a kind of one-two punch. And so it will be part of this broader narrative.

But I wouldn't be surprised if a large part of it is devoted to the Arab awakening and the Arab spring.

Any prospects at all - especially given the tensions and the disagreements between the American administration and the Israeli government right now - of moving the Palestinian peace process into an actual peace process?

I think it’s very unlikely for precisely the reason you alluded to. At the end of the day, there isn't going to be any significant movement in that direction unless the Israeli government believes that it is in its interests to do so.

Israel is the power on the ground. It has the land and the guns. And unless the Israelis decide that they want to go down this path, it turns out there's very little the United States – and certainly the American president - can do.

President Obama has made efforts but they have all been rebuffed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu pleads privately that his coalition would fall apart.

For all those complicated reasons, I think much as the White House would like to see some movement there, and as much as the King of Jordan would like to see some movement, we will have some of the usual platitudes about the Middle East peace process but no actual peace.

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Topics: From Fareed • Osama bin Laden • Q&A

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Obama's biggest challenge will be to maintain the credibility of the U.S. in the region. Sofar the U.S. has been conducting a double tracked policy in the Middle East, holding on to its autoritarian allies on the one hand and supporting democratic movements of the people on the other. Now Obama would like to establish a new relationship between the rulers and the ruled, make them understand that peace and prosperity can only be founded on solid grounds and that the democratisation process is a heavily travelled two-way street.

    May 12, 2011 at 8:37 am | Reply
  2. Aminu Tukur

    One thing is obvious. The US has failed to realized that it's foreign policy on Middle East has a global consequences on all human race. It is clear that The US policy on nations can't be changed by a man widely welcomed into White House because of high expectations that he will be a different President. The answer actually is, he is not. He can't reform America's sense of thinking over the world, the middle east, Muslims globally..a question Fareed, how many Muslims are US citizens? how many does Obama have in his cabinet. The story is short Fareed. Where I stay in Nigeria, to all Christians there is no harm with the US Foreign policy because they see the US as Soldiers for Christianity. To majority of Muslims, everything about the US is hate. They don't view the US as anything good for Islam and they have reasons. If Mr Obama really want to calm the Muslims and boost their confidence in him then his government should make a U turn. Stop killings of innocent Muslims in Irag, Afghanistan and Pakistan, withdraw its seeking influence on Muslim Nations and resolve the Israeli's aggression on Palestinian lands. Then that's justice and peach for America forever. That's view Fareed!

    May 12, 2011 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • kujuboman

      I disagree with this article. This person says "Innocent Muslims" the Holy Koran states and is clear that if a person will not convert to Islam it is the obligation of every muslim to kill the infidal which in this case means anyone not Muslim. the war has raged for centuries starting with father Abram. When the Islamic world gives up on killing Christians then the war will stop other wise let the killings continue. when the muslim world changes its position on christianity then it will stop after all Mohammad was nothing more than a man when Muslims realize this they won't be so quick to sacrifice themselves for 76 virgins.

      May 31, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  3. Wais Islam

    Thanks Fareed, good analysis. However, the US needs to exert real pressure on Israel otherwise there will never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. With the instability in the Middle East the last thing Israel would want is a pact between the post revolution New Arab World and Iran. The people of surrounding Syria, Egypt and Jordan are coming together and Israel will soon be having more problems with its neighbours. Regardless of whether there is a secular or Islamist democratic order in the region Israel will face consequences unless it acts immediately towards peace which must include dismantling of illegal settlements, return of refugees and all other Palestinian rights. The US economy cannot afford to support Israel with another $3trillion foreign aid so the latter must know the damage it is causing its own economy especially with a global boycott.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:01 am | Reply
    • Iyad

      First of all – it is $3 billion, NOT trillion, that goes to israel. Secondly, I love how you have NOTHING to say about pressure on palestinians to return the kidnapped israeli soldier, gilad shalit, to israel after about FOUR YEARS. Or how you have NOTHING to say about the fact that palies dont EVEN recognize israel as a country!!! How can u believe in 2 states when u refuse to acknowledge one of those states?!?!? Please, my friend, you dont understand what is going on in israel – i would bet my life youve never been there. Fareed also doesnt get it. I would never create a country for the KKK, and then force Obama to live less than a mile away from them....that is what Obama is telling Israel to do! Give their land to people who salivate at the thought of murdering them....and then live next to them somehow in peace!??!?! You must be kidding me!!!!! Real islam is not followed by those animals in arab countries – they have been brainwashed to think that the true muslim should HATE and KILL infidels. The LAST thing they deserve is a country!!!!

      May 31, 2011 at 9:17 am | Reply
  4. John Smith

    "Israel is the power on the ground. It has the land and the guns. And unless the Israelis decide that they want to go down this path, it turns out there's very little the United States – and certainly the American president – can do."

    Well, at least you're acknowledging – as a bona fide member of the Establishment media elite – the stranglehold that the Israel Lobby has on prudent former United States foreign policy. Now you can start awakening the American people with a sense of self-preservation and freedom from foreign domination.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  5. RAJ

    Love for personal God and personal religion has become more important than the love for fellow human beings. Religion out of different beliefs created division and there is no division when mind is religious. No speech from any Leader will bring any instant change till we all understand above mentioned facts. Obama speech should apply to those Americans first who were trying to prove that Obama is a Muslim because his father was muslim. What it means ? any citizen of USA with muslim religion cannot be President of USA ? We need to correct this first in the psyche of USA as a whole. This limited group of muslim hatred group in USA do not represent USA. Same way, fanatics, ignorant, misguided limited group of muslim do not represent the muslim religion and Obama speech will put more importance on this fact. Unity is strength created by love and respect for all and division is destroying this strength when we look at other with prejudiced conditioned mind.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
  6. Yesh Prabhu

    Mr. Zacharia says, "... it turns out there's very little the United States – and certainly the American president – can do." But he ignores the fact that President Obama does indeed have real power and ability to bring meaningful change in the Israel-Palestine conflict, if only he wishes to use the Presidential power boldly. For starters, he can use his executive power to block the billions of dollars of aid US sends to Israel if Israel continues its intransigence regarding the illegal settlements. Obama worries too much about AIPAC and its agents in the US congress and the senate. If he decides to follow President Truman's steps, he can really change the situation in the Middle East almost overnight.
    Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania

    May 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  7. hussainrustam

    The views expressed by the writer are guesswork and what is missing is the role of the West, especially the US in creating the environment for the Muslim Brotherhood or even Al-Qaeda to flourish. The US nurtured dictatorships that are cruel and corrupt leaving the people to long for any glimpse of hope to help them. The Muslim brotherhood and even Bin Laden represented this glimpse of hope. People across the Middle East and especially in the Gulf are deprived from their basic human rights and anybody promises them an alternative will gain their trust. The West and especially the US, is wrong in supporting those dictators on the pretext of crude oil or military presence in these countries. Take the example of events in Bahrain where the Shiite majority is derived from their rights and when they peacefully demonstrated, the US sided with dictators. The killing and wounding of innocent demonstrators and human right activities is going on. Even doctors and nurses who treated the wounded are tried and jailed, which never happened in the history of medicine. The US is not only silent about these atrocities but shared them with the Saudi troops to cleanse the Shiite. There other similar examples, and for the US to expect those people to say thank you instead of becoming angry and frustrated and look for someone to help is illogical.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:16 am | Reply
  8. hussainrustam

    All the speeches of Obama or anybody else are meaningless because they are directed to the dictators to gain their support and not to the oppressed people. Even if Obama visit Mecca, this will not change the ugly US image in the Arab, Muslims, or the Third World. The US is seen as colonial power replacing the British and the French empires. For the US to nurture dictatorships, especially in the Gulf, where people have no say in their lives make them frustrated, angry, and desperate and look for terrorist organization for help. Saudi Arabia is the arch-dictatorship on this earth where people have no basic rights and decent women are not allowed to drive a car, walk on their own, or work in public places. On the other hand, princes and princesses are allowed to gamble, take drugs, and practice prostitution. A leaked document from the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia showed that those princess and princesses loot 200 billion a year from the oil revenue. In comparison, a poor person has his hands chopped off for stealing a dollar to buy food. These discrepancies are supported by the US, and unless this changes, no jargon will work.

    May 13, 2011 at 7:32 am | Reply
  9. Sehrish

    Why would I seek help, Anonymous? I'm afraid I epefrr not to be sheep and flock to the silliness perpetuated by the UN.Can you give me one solid achievement by the UnAoC that has further one single item on their mission statement? I seriously doubt it. Nor can you prove that they are not bigots who hate the Jews.By "you Tea Party people," you mean we who love individual liberty and endorse it for everyone regardless of their religion? Why do you assume that we hate Muslims? I hate no one. What kind of nonsense is that?! You have assumed some nonsense that does not exist and THAT is why Tea Party people are sickened with the sheeple on the Left in this country. Put down the crackpipe and pick up some brain cells, Anonymous. Stop judging people by your preconceived notions of them - or the image of them pushed on you by the Lefties - and start seeing them for yourself. You might surprise yourself and others by making sense. The only "H8" (how cute, your little alpha-numeric word) that is perpetuated in this country is the hatred spawned by class-warfare and class-envy pushed daily by the Left. Wake up and start thinking for yourself. One of these days, you'll own your comments and stand up for something worthwhile, Anonymous.

    April 21, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Reply

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