The speech of our lives
When was the last time you listened to a long speech - a whole hour - and wanted it not to end, but to go on and on? No historical perspective seems necessary to name Barack Obama's speech the most important of the decade. It was a speech delivered without squirming, without dodging, without slips of the tongue or sloppy grammar. There were no nervous sips of water between sentences, not even a single dab of the brow.
The Cairo speech will open the next volume of great speeches that changed history, I am certain. Perhaps it was not the speech of his life; he still has two terms in office. But it was the speech of our lives, the lives of all the damned in all the areas of disaster and death.
Benjamin Netanyahu and I sat and listened together - he in his office, I at home. Neither of us had an inkling of what Obama would say, or how. After he finished, I ran to call the prime minister to tell him: This beautiful young man, Barack Hussein Obama, he's the man. He's the greatest. You don't have a chance in a face-off with him - not in rhetorical ability, depth of understanding, breadth of vision, powers of persuasion or charisma. Above all, wonder of wonders, he speaks and people believe him.
Beside the man of the future, local leaders seem less like grasshoppers than dinosaurs whose time has passed, clutching at history's tail instead of seizing it by the horns.
I didn't call Netanyahu after all, for fear that I would only add to his concern and anguish. Did anyone bother to call Osama bin Laden, who has also been sounding very worried in the last few days?
Obama yesterday offered a broad, world-embracing vision, one more seminal and sweeping than pundits had predicted. It encompassed more than Iraq and Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The new American president traveled to this region to call an end to the clash of civilizations, which had blown new wind into the tattered sails of the old cold warriors. After all, there are plenty of statesmen, academics and journalists who find it impossible to justify their existence without some little world war going on. Without that, their little lives are not worth living.
Even as more countries lock their gates in fear and hatred, the president of the world's leading state is standing up and opening everything - opening a new leaf in relations between cultures and communities, opening the shackles of old accounts and prejudices, opening doors to closed rooms and secrets, opening heads to wise insights and hearts to noble aspirations. Yes, he has a dream. May he be able to make it come true.
Dreams can be annoying, and perhaps some people will want to throw Obama into a deep hole. Already we hear scorn and derision for his feeble dreaminess, his real or fake naivete, his lofty stance, from which he can only fall. This mockery comes from important and realistic people who are utterly sober and have no delusions. People who have managed to make quite a bit of peace in their time, but mostly a lot of war. They will show this flighty rookie. If he flies too high, they will pluck his feathers and clip his wings.
After the speech, my vision cleared and suddenly everything became lucid: Netanyahu, the well-known Washingtonian, along with a few television commentators who seem to have been taken out of mothballs and a handful of Congressmen and lobbyists, will all have to rediscover their America.