One of President Obama’s campaign promises was to make a speech in “an Islamic capital” some time during his first 100 days in office. Given the course of events, I strongly suspect that the intended capital is Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, which is the largest majority Muslim nation.
Of course, Indonesia isn’t an Islamic state legally, so it may stretch the parameter of being in an Islamic capital. However, there are several signs that he has it under consideration.
Now the linked December NYT article dismisses it as “too easy”, being that he once lived there. However, there is simply no ideal place for such a speech. Cairo, the location suggested, is the seat of power of the unpopular dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was made less popular by the events in Gaza which, to be fair, occurred after the New York Times published the article.
There are similar image problems with other Arab capitals, where our affiliation is based on perhaps less than savory reasons. If for instance, he spoke in Riyadh, it may highlight our country’s dependence on Saudi oil. Baghdad is of course associated with our war in Iraq. Countries where our footprint isn’t seen as a corrupt bargain tend not to be our allies.
So, Jarkarta being “too easy” isn’t necessarily the worst defect. And given this exchange with a state department official on the second day of his Presidency and the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Jakarta right now as part of her first major tour outside the U.S., I think a speech in Jakarta is very likely.
And while Jakarta is easy, that could be used as a benefit. Obama has a connection there and could use that as a platform to reach out further, if he uses is as an opening act rather than an attempt to fulfill a promise in letter but not in spirit.
Certainly an adventurous speech in Damascus or Tehran or East Jerusalem would be nice from an idealistic standpoint of peace in the region and an easing of tensions, but I think that Obama is the type to use stepping stones rather than great leaps in his diplomacy during the first 100 days.
We shall see.