Paging Ben Rhodes (cont'd)

by | July 28, 2009

Jeffrey Goldberg gets calls from "two senior administration officials" responding to the argument that Obama should directly address the Israeli people:

These two senior officials -- sorry, those were the ground rules -- made the plausible argument that the Cairo speech was, in fact, directed at Israelis as much as it was directed at Arabs. "The President went before a Cairo audience in a speech co-sponsored by Al-Azhar with Muslim Brotherhood members in the audience and spoke of America's strong, unshakable support for Israel," one of the officials said. "He could have gone to a million different venues to say this, but he went to Cairo, and it wasn't exactly an applause line. Isn't it more important to say this to the Muslim world than it is to say it to an audience of Israelis or American Jews?"

That argument is in fact plausible, but I think it misses a larger point--which is the not insignificant matter of flattery. The mere fact that Obama chooses to address a group--whether it's Iranians with his Nowruz address; Africans with his speech to the Ghanain parliament; Europeans with his town hall in Strasbourg; or Muslims with his Cairo speech--carries the message that the group (and its opinion of him and America) matters to him and America in some special way. Yes, Obama said a lot of things in Cairo that should have been music to Israelis' ears (although he also said some things, as Aluf Benn notes, that were rather discordant to those ears); but when it comes to Obama's speeches, the where may actually be just as important as the what.

--Jason Zengerle

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/paging-ben-rhodes-contd