In a series of pre-trip interviews, President Obama is doing his darndest to lower the bar for his highly-anticipated speech Thursday in Cairo to the Muslim world.
In somewhat different words, he told National Public Radio, the British Broadcasting Co., and Canal Plus of France on Monday and NBC News in an interview broadcast this evening, that the speech is only a first step to improving relations between the United States and Muslim countries.
To Canal Plus, according to the transcript the White House released this afternoon: "Now, I think it's very important to understand that one speech is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East. And so I think expectations should be somewhat modest.
"What I want to do is to create a better dialogue so that the Muslim world understands more effectively how the United States but also how the West thinks about many of these difficult issues like terrorism, like democracy, to discuss the framework for what's happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and our outreach to Iran, and also how we view the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
"Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslims Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples."
On NBC: "I also don't want to, you know, load up too many expectations on this speech. After all, one speech is not gonna transform very real policy differences and some very difficult issues surrounding the Middle East and the relationship between Islam and the west.
"But I am confident that we're in a moment where in Islamic countries, I think there's a recognition that the path of extremism is not actually gonna deliver a better life for people. I think there's a recognition that simply being anti-American is not gonna solve their problems. The steps we're taking now to leave Iraq takes that issue and diffuses it a little bit.
"And the question then is, how do we now go forward with an honest, serious-- relationship based on mutual respect and-- and mutual interest? And so what I hope will happen, as a consequence of this speech, is people will have a better sense of how America views its relationship to the broader world and to Islam....I do hope that we can start opening a dialogue that'll be more constructive moving forward."
On the BBC: "I think what we want to do is open a dialogue. And, you know, there are misapprehensions about the West on the part of the Muslim world and obviously there are some big misapprehensions about the Muslim world when it comes to those of us in the West. And it is my firm belief that no one speech is going to solve every problem, there are no silver bullets. There are very real policy issues that have to be worked through that are difficult, and ultimately it's going to be action and not words that determine the path of progress from here on out.
"But it did seem to me that this was an opportunity for us to get both sides to listen to each other a little bit more and hopefully learn something about different cultures."
On NPR, he was also asked about the challenge of being at war in Muslim countries, where civilian casualties are all too commonplace.
"Well, there's no doubt that anytime you have civilian casualties that always complicates things, whether it was a Muslim or a non-Muslim country," he replied. "I think part of what I'll be addressing in my speech is a reminder that the reason that we're in Afghanistan is very simple, and that is 3,000 Americans were killed and you had a devastating attack on the American homeland; the organization that planned those attacks intends to carry out further attacks and we cannot stand by and allow that to happen.
"But I am somebody who is very anxious to have the Afghan government and the Pakistani government have the capacity to ensure that those safe havens don't exist. And so it's -- I think will be an important reminder that we have no territorial ambitions in Afghanistan. We don't have an interest in exploiting the resources of Afghanistan. What we want is simply that people arenít hanging out in Afghanistan who are plotting to bomb the United States. And I think that's a fairly modest goal that other Muslim countries should be able to understand."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.