Friday, June 5, 2009

A Presidential Address

From Kennedy and Reagan in Berlin to Nixon in Latin America, President have long used rousing speeches to foreign citizens as a way to reach out other countries and create enthusiasm for America abroad. President Obama’s recent speech in Egypt was a milestone, his first key speeches in a Muslim country. Critics had said that the speech was too apologetic, shedding an unfavorable light on America or that it was too balanced, and that Obama should have taken a more decisive position. Others looked favorably on it as a much needed step in repositioning American foreign policy, and praised Obama’s for his affirmation of “unbreakable bonds” between America and Israel.

This is a great time to discuss with your student’s how a President uses political speeches abroad, and to also ask how should Presidents present America to foreign citizens? It would helpful for your students to take a look at past presidential speeches abroad, and compare and contrast these with President Obama’s speech last night.

Below are some quotes from President Obama’s speech in Cairo. Have your student examine these, and discuss the Presidents rhetoric. Do you think the speech affected public perception of America and/or Americans?

To help guide your students:

1. Obama’s acknowledgement of the 1953 overthrow of the elected Iranian Prime Minister, which was engineered by the CIA. Was this an important contribution to the speech or was Obama bringing up old grievances that are better left in the past?
In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known.

2. Obama’s stance on the Iraq War and troops in Afghanistan. Are these statements decisive or do they skirt the issue, in order to maintain a balance?
Make no mistake, we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military -- we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.

Now, let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.

3. Obama pointing out some issues of religious freedom in America. Is this statement too apologetic, or does it support the point that America, like the world, still needs work.
Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

It can also be helpful to have student research public opinion on the speech. What are critics saying? What about the speech was seen as favorable? Then discuss how this speech positions American foreign policy and foreign opinion.

No comments:

Post a Comment