Feature

Obama, Bush, and Muslims

What's new about Obama's "new beginning" with the Islamic world?

President Obama's speech in Cairo had a "sort of familiar ring," said Michael Crowley in The New Republic, and indeed, "most of his main arguments have been made before"—by his predecessor, in 2006. Both Obama and George W. Bush said the U.S. isn't at war with Islam, decried the "daily humiliation" of Palestinians, and said that freedom couldn't be imposed from abroad. But Bush's 2006 speech was "immediately forgotten," while Obama's speech—perhaps his best yet—could make a real difference in how Muslims view the U.S.

Still, Obama's "artful" repackaging of Bush's "freedom agenda" is a compliment to Bush, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Obama even "went one better" than Bush in his "implicit rebukes" to the Muslim world. Except for a few sour notes—his "needless insult" to Bush and U.S. troops in calling Iraq a "war of choice," his false boast that he ended U.S. torture—Obama's speech really just pushed the Bush policy, "without the taint of its author's name."

"That's the problem," said Michelle Malkin in her blog. Obama's embracing the same "blind" cluelessness that "plagued" the Bush administration, such as the "myth that a 'tiny minority' of 'extremists'" are Islam's problem, and a willful disregard for the "violent jihadi virus around the world and on American soil."

Some of the words may have been similar, but Obama avoided using "Bush's hectoring tone," said The New York Times in an editorial. And after "eight years of arrogance and bullying," words and tone matter. As does vision, and Obama clearly doesn't share Bush's view of a U.S. "racked with fear and bent on vengeance."

To the extent that Obama's speech really did mark a "fresh start," said The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial, it was due to his biography, which "lends a fresh credibility to ideas and policies that are actually not so fresh." Perhaps the "most encouraging sign" from the speech is that Obama's Muslim audience applauded the "do unto others" line, because that's the only way to bridge the "Western-Muslim divide."

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