Half the time Obama considers himself kind of lucky to be following George W. Bush’s opening act: it was such a profoundly colossal disaster of an administration on so many levels that all Obama has to do is not wreck the economy, start a catastrophic war of choice on false pretenses, let a treasured American city drown AND try to gut social security all at once and he should coast to re-election by landslide.
Seriously, if there’s one thing Pappy Bush can thank his no-good sociopathic son for its making Bush the Elder look like a half-way decent President in comparison. And sparking fond memories of the prior Bush presidency was no easy task. It took a special kind of overachiever of a fuck up.
But when Obama’s not chuckling about the ease of looking better than Bush, he’s lacing together a string of curses, that would make a liberal blogger blush, at the fact that Bush left him with such a cocked-up pile of gordian knot-tied crises to deal with from day 1 (or immediately after election night if you’re using the Malkin Calendar).
But at least Bush was friendly and his aides didn’t deface any of the White House keyboards, so it’s kind of a wash in terms of the hardships W faced after the Clinton transition.
Obama’s highly anticipated speech to the Middle East is a perfect example of this thanks/thanks-for-nothing dichotomy. First, have fun with Bush’s legacy Mr. President:
When President Obama delivers his address to the Middle East on Thursday from Cairo, he will face the legacy of names like Haditha, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, places that have become more symbol than geography over nearly a decade of perhaps the most traumatic chapter in America’s relationship with the Muslim world.
Yeah, that, and he has some splainin’ to do with the massive armies still malingering about in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the latter increasingly on the receiving end of our “liberation and freedom” from above – known, colloquially, as being bombed the shit out of. It sounds more grateful in the original Arabic/PashtoUrdu.
On the other hand, Obama will inherit a decent sized benefit of the doubt and be greeted by a population willing to at least listen with an open-ish mind if Barack can just continue not being George W. Bush incarnate. Which I think he can handle.
More than any other president in a generation, Obama enjoys a reservoir of goodwill in the region. His father was Muslim. His outreach in an interview with an Arabic satellite channel, a speech to Turkey’s parliament and an address to Iranians on the Persian New Year have inclined many to listen. Just as important, he is not George W. Bush.
As to the particulars of the speech, it’s a mixed bag. Peter Daou is right to criticize Obama for not addressing the Bush civil-liberties hangover head-on, and for taking a cautious approach when discussing human rights (especially women’s rights). On the other hand, cutting back on the lecturing tone was kind of a priority (hypocrisy doesn’t sell well – must be an Arab thing).
Also, he did make a loud declaration against torture and in support of closing Gitmo, and the applause from those lines was robust. Those are lines that no major Republican Party figure could even support, let alone utter. The emphasis on Islam’s connection to American culture and society was also a positive – if humdrum - theme.
But then, that just gets back to the low bar Bush set: closing Gitmo and ceasing torture (while maintaining indefinite detention and other civil liberties violations) is a marked improvement. Focusing on Islam’s valued place in America counts as fresh outreach. Hell, wingnuttia is so piss-pants frightened of Islam that merely saying thank you in Arabic is proofof secret fluency and hidden dhimmitude, so Obama can run laps around them with a simple smile and bow handshake.
And yet, after all, these are just words, even if Obama can make them sound prettier than Bush – also, coherent and part of the English language. Muslims, like Americans, will only be moved by rhetoric for so long. But it’s not a bad start.
Now pardon me while I go practice my ululating.