TSR: "This could be the first pillar in a great bridge to Islam..."
June 04, 2009
Hours after President Obama's paradigm-shifting speech in Cairo, Michael appears on The Situation Room to discuss its impact in the Muslim world, while Candy Crowley looks at the political implications at home.
WOLF BLITZER: Let's talk about what we just heard, especially what we heard on Iraq being a war of choice unlike the war in Afghanistan. Joining us now, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and our correspondent Michael Ware who has covered the war in Iraq from day one, going back to 2003.
The explanation he gave on Iraq, is that going to work in the Arab and Muslim world, Michael?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think this is the closest you'll ever hear from an American administration admitting that the war in Iraq, if not was a mistake-- you know, it's almost an apology by omission. He makes it very clear that it was a war of choice, unlike the juxtaposition with the war in Afghanistan, which was a war of necessity. He also says that whilst the Iraqi people, I believe, are better off without Saddam Hussein, there is still some way to go. That's a big thing and that's going to play heavily, I think, in that part of the Middle East.
However, there's also an irony here. You have to look it as a black-letter lawyer looking strictly at the structure of this speech. Under the heading of issues between America and the Muslim world, the first issue being violent extremism in any form, that's where he addresses Iraq and that's where he addresses it as a war of choice and all but a war of mistake compared to Afghanistan. It's almost as if that's a form of extremism itself. Nonetheless, he hits the one key point on Iraq and Afghanistan that the Muslim world really cares about: that we are not going to stay. Wolf.
BLITZER: He makes it clear, Candy, that the U.S. has no intention of having permanent bases anywhere out there in Iraq or Afghanistan. All right, so that's how it's playing out there, Candy. How's it playing back here?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, I think that rhetorically speaking, Michael's exactly right, and I think what he's pointing to, which is, this was not an apology. And as you know, as the president left to go overseas, everyone knowing he was going to make this speech, his critics were already out there going, okay, it's another apology tour. The president made it very clear in advance of the speech that that isn't what it was. He nonetheless made it very clear, the one big point it seems to me -- set aside all the rhetoric, all of the paragraphs, all the sub-headings of this speech -- is, here is proof positive that he is not George Bush. Under that particular category is, well, that was a war of choice and even the word 'mistakes' was not used. But it was very clear and I think the one message he wanted out there was, you know, there's a new guy in town and I'm not George Bush.
BLITZER: That new guy is Barack Obama. I want to bring in CNN's Atia Abawi. She's in Kabul, Afghanistan for us.
I know you've been gathering reaction there on the streets of Kabul, where the U.S. is beefing up significantly its military presence. Listen to this so-called "man on the street," as we like to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated VO): We think that he is better for Muslims compared to the last president. There is now a hope that between Muslims, America and other nations, we can come together in friendship, uniting all human beings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He may help people, but unless we unite ourselves as Muslims and help one another, it's never going to help us if outsiders come and try to help us. We have to unite ourselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I know you were trying to get some reaction also, Atia, from some women there, but so far, unsuccessful. What happened?
ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf. It wasn't from lack of trying. We did approach women on the street and they gracefully rejected us. And we actually approached a car full of women, three generations of women. We saw a grandmother, a daughter and granddaughters. The grandmother said that she had so much to say, so much to share to the camera, so much to share with us, but she didn't have permission from her grandson in the front seat. This is the lives of women in Afghanistan today. They still don't have those freedoms. No woman would talk to us. And we had a grandmother, an elder, who's having to ask permission from her grandson, who denied her her right to speak, to express herself. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Atia Abawi's in Kabul for us. Candy Crowley, that chunk of the speech that the president had on women's rights was very strong, but the question is being asked, is it just words or is there going to be action. Will he -- did he yesterday, for example, tell King Abdullah, let women at least drive, forget about voting but why can't they even drive a car in Saudi Arabia?
CROWLEY: I can't imagine it was that specific, but you cannot go to a region with the expressed wish to say, we respect you, we respect your culture and we are equals and then publicly bash those cultures for what they're doing. What you do is, I think, what the president did, which was saying, here's how we feel about it. Because there are obviously pro-democracy groups that wanted to hear from him a very strong support of the rule of law, of transparency, of human rights. But there is critical, there is openly critical and then there's just merely stating, here's what we believe in and we believe it is true for all human beings. You can't go head-on while you're trying to say we're listening to you and we respect you.
BLITZER: All right. And I know, Michael, you're a tough hard-nosed war correspondent, is this speech, when the dust settles in a few weeks or months or years, really going to make much of a difference?
WARE: Well, we shall see, won't we? The real test here is can this president back up this landmark speech with deeds, with action? Is this just the finery of rhetoric or is this the reality of his administration because let's face it, at the end of the day, regardless of the parameters or the circumstances in which he frames it, you're still going to have more than 200,000 American combat troops on Muslim land as the sun sets today.
However, I do think we have touched upon something that is markedly different, perhaps, from the Bush doctrine, apart from all else, and that's a retraction of some of the bolder ideals of the Bush doctrine. We saw that the Bush administration waged into the Middle East with this grand vision of reshaping it, perhaps in America's image. Re-divising the Middle East -- in a vision of what some called the neo-cons or at least certainly that of the believers of the Bush administration -- that would let democracy spring forth. It was almost as if everyone believed inside every Arab is a small-D democrat. Here, we see President Obama clearly break away from that and say we won't force any kind of a government upon any people. This, Wolf, could be the first pillar in a great bridge to Islam, but is the president going to provide the bricks and mortar to complete that bridge? That's yet to be seen.
BLITZER: You know Candy, what struck me missing from the speech was that over the past 20 years, almost every time an American president has sent young men and women off to war, whether you agree with it or disagree with it, it was to help Muslims, whether to liberate Kuwait in the first gulf war or Kosovo or Bosnia, or Afghanistan or Iraq, Muslims were involved. There was no reference to that in this speech.
CROWLEY: There wasn't, but I tell you, I do think that will be part of this trip overall, and perhaps it will come up later in another context, but I do know that when they left here, certainly when you look at the 65th anniversary of D-Day, that it is the perfect chance for the president to rebut his critics and say, by the way, Americans have shed blood in many, many nations around the world to try to preserve freedom for other people. So I think you will hear it, but this obviously they didn't think was the place to do it as far as Islam was concerned.
BLITZER: Candy Crowley and Michael Ware, guys, thanks very much.