Olive branches and tough talk in Egypt

President Barack Obama used his own Islamic heritage and American history to reach out to the world’s Muslims during a speech in Cairo Thursday. But, equally important, Obama made it clear the United States remains committed to the fight against Islamic terrorists.

This country will “relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our society,” the president told the overwhelmingly Muslim crowd at Cairo University.

Later he said that al-Qaida was responsible for killing 3,000 innocent people on U.S. soil on 9/11 and its members continue to state their plans to kill “on a massive scale.” Obama added,

“These are not opinions to be debated. These are facts to be dealt with.”

Good for him. Such unambiguous words in the heart of the Muslim Middle East were needed to reiterate the U.S. position on Islamic terrorists.

There were some people in this country who feared Obama would use Thursday’s speech as an opportunity to apologize for American actions in the region. The closest he came to that was to speak about U.S. interrogation methods of suspected terrorists. “The fear and anger” provoked by the attacks of 9/11 were “understandable,” the president said. “But in some cases it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.”

People may agree or not with that statement, but it is hardly an abject apology for U.S. actions. And with that statement, Obama re-emphasized the U.S. intention to continue the fight against extremists in Afghanistan, to aid Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban, and to help Iraq “forge a better future.”

The most controversial part of Obama’s speech involved Israel. He denounced continuing Hamas violence against Israel and called for every Muslim to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

He also said other Arab countries should stop using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to distract their own people from other problems.

But he also demanded that Israel halt settlement in lands it gained during the 1967 war. And he hinted that Israel bears a large part of the blame for the failure to find peace. Both statements angered some leaders in Israel, especially those on the right.

President Obama offered an olive branch to Muslims Thursday, calling for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.”

But, in doing so, he didn’t abandon America’s fight against Islamic terrorists, nor our historic support of Israel. He deserves credit for continuing a tough, pragmatic approach to Islam and the problems of the Middle East.


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