Another speech

Responses are all over the map to Barack Obama''s highly touted speech on the Middle East and North Africa. Take your pick: from indifference to despair, excitement and anger.  There was enough in it for everyone.
The mention of 1967 borders brought one of Binyamin Netanyahu''s instant responses, described as "icy" by the New York Times. He said that Israel would not accept 1967 borders, but the President did not ask him to. What I heard was that 1967 lines would be the starting point of negotiations involving give and take. What and how much would be left up to the parties.
So what else is new on that topic?
Also troubling was the President''s urging of an initial settling of borders and only later negotiations over refugees and Jerusalem. Netanyahu''s position is that the trickiest issues must be settled along with borders, in order not to leave reasons for Palestinians to continue their struggle after they have already been assured the extent of their state.
If you want icy, that was the water the President dropped on the Palestinians'' plan to have a state recognized by the United Nations General Assembly. Palestinian leaders are meeting, and one can assume they are worried. The President also expressed concern about the Fatah alliance with Hamas. Both wings of Palestinian politics will be unhappy with the President’s affirmation of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
Likudniks are lining up with the cold reservations of their party leader. Prominent voices from Kadima are saying that the President''s outline was the kind of breakthrough needed, and that Netanyahu should either sign on or resign.
Reactions in Arab capitals seem to be mixed and muted. Not surprising. Except for some sharp words about Assad and Gaddafi, the 80 percent or so of the speech not directed at Jews and Palestinians was largely a collection of American platitudes. Some seemed more designed for employees of the State Department than Arab capitals, namely the good words about the rights of women. In all the President said on that subject, I did not hear anything about a woman''s right to drive a car, or the name of that oil producing country that buys all that expensive military hardware from the United States, where women risk a great deal by daring to drive.
From what we know about presidential speeches, this one probably began with invitations sent from the White House to relevant agencies asking for suggested input. Most likely a hundred or more people created or poured over the suggestions, argued about how many words should be devoted to each subject, then which words. Increasingly smaller groups would edit draft after draft with an ear to what the President indicated he wanted, until the President himself did the final touch-up.
In what may have been part of the theatrics invested in the speech, media personalities had to fill more than a half hour of air time from the time the speech was advertised and the beginning. They speculated about disputes between the President and his advisors continuing until the last moments.
A well dressed, attractive woman brought a folder to the podium, seemingly as a final warm up for the President''s appearance. Some minutes later, she returned to remove the folder. Was this meant to suggest ongoing ambivalence about the contents? Who reads from a folder in the era of Teleprompters, placed so it looks like the speaker is actually talking extemporaneously to this side and then that side of the audience?
The Secretary of State''s introduction was an overly long drone of praise for the men and women of the State Department and AID. As taught in an introduction to personnel management, she was raising her organizational flag for the sake of morale.
Balance, values, principles rather than details were the prominent traits. The text, if not the substance, would earn a high grade for the group that crafted it, and the President who guided the work, embellished it, and delivered it. It flowed well. We saw again that the President speaks well.
The content would get high grades from some, low grades from others.
Some see clarity and new departure. Others the same old stuff meant to solidify the claims for controlling the high ground of international relations by Barack Obama and the United States.
The President praised his own previous speech in Cairo, and claimed to have contributed to the uprising toward democracy across the region. He also said that there would be ups and downs in the process, that it would differ from country to country, and would produce disappointments as well as accomplishments.
He praised America''s contribution to the development of democracy in Iraq, which sounded ghoulish in the light of continuing explosions. He promised a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in the not too distant future, and could be judged as absurdly optimistic about what they would leave behind.
All told, it is best described as the work of a committee, with all the pluses and minuses of committee work.
Varda and I met a neighborhood friend on our morning walk. He is an Arab social scientist who writes about Palestinians. I told him that we were arguing about what the President said in his speech, and invited him to join the deliberation. His response: "Did he say anything?"
Will it make a difference? Was the delivery up to the theatrics of the build up?
The obvious platitude is "time will tell."
With time there will be other events to stimulate the ongoing flows in the region. Analysts with one or another political tilt will argue who and what was responsible.