Soon after President Obama delivered his enlightened speech at Cairo University in Egypt last Thursday, the right wing reflexively launched into attack mode. Led by Fox News, conservatives off all stripes began (again) touting the speech as another “tour of apology.” Charles Krauthammer claimed Obama “was exceedingly weak” on Iran, while a sizable right-wing chorus bemoaned what they deemed as instances of “moral equivalency” in the speech. “I think it makes America look weak,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) complained of the speech.
However, during an interview with Bloomberg News this past weekend, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), ranking member of Foreign Relations Committee, broke ranks with his party’s criticism of Obama. Lugar called it an “important speech,” adding that he “thought” it “struck the right tone.” Asked if Obama was “tough enough” on Iran, Lugar responded, “Oh I suspect so for that particular purpose.”
When Hunt asked if “there was a moral equivalence message in the speech,” Lugar didn’t take the bait. “I think there was some attempt to find a balanced nuanced situation,” he replied. And then he distanced himself from Boehner:
HUNT: How about the charge of some critics like Republican leader John Boehner that it was too apologetic, that it was too weak and almost groveling?
LUGAR: I do not agree with that.
Lugar expounded on the “moral equivalency” charges, especially with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian issue by pointing out that Obama was simply “asking people to forget the past” because the arguments about which side has suffered more bring you “back to square one.”
Commenting on the right wing’s “apology tour” cries, Lugar said there is “a lack of sympathy for our country,” adding, “We probably as Americans need to give a lot of speeches in the Arab world.”
LUGAR: I’m prepared to congratulate the president for really a signal achievement that doesn’t really change materially things on the ground and when he attempted to talk about things on the ground — the Palestinian-Israeli situation — both sides felt that after all he was equating their plight with a great deal of equality and as they see it, history has not been that way. If you were looking at it from the Israeli standpoint, that the suffering and holocaust and other occasions as well beyond what would seem to be found in equivalence here and likewise the Muslim and Arab world feels clearly that the Israelis are still intruders. So you’re back to square one. The president is asking people to forget the past.
HUNT: But you’ve seen the speech, do you think there was a moral equivalence message in the speech?
LUGAR: I think there was some attempt to find a balanced nuanced situation. And that always runs the danger, that whichever group feels more aggrieved will feel the president or whoever is giving the speech is less acute in his observations.
HUNT: How about the charge of some critics like Republican leader John Boehner that it was too apologetic, too weak and almost groveling?
LUGAR: I do not agree with that. I believe that the president understands that American popularity in most of the countries, whether it is the pew poll or others — indicates a lack of sympathy for our country. We always rationalize and say it is not the American people; it’s the leader whomever it happens to be. And so some would say after all this is a new leader and to some extent, because Senator [sic] Obama has attempted to strike some of the right notes rhetorically. There is something going for him there. But I would say that for the moment, we probably as Americans need to give a lot of speeches in the Arab world.
HUNT: Was he tough enough on Iran?
LUGAR: Oh I suspect so for that particular purpose. He is attempting to guide Arab nations at a time when they feel fearful of Iranian breaking out into nuclear weapons. They understand the problems that would have with all of this. They also understand the sensitivities of many people in the streets, literally, in countries where there still are authoritarian leaders.