WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama’s aides say he is considering making a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.
So where should he do it? The list of Islamic world capitals is long, and includes the obvious —Riyadh, Kuwait City, Islamabad — and the not-so-obvious — Male (the Maldives), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Tashkent (Uzbekistan). Some wise-guys have even suggested Dearborn, Mich., as a possibility.
But Jakarta’s too easy. Mr. Asali thought so too: “Jakarta? People would yawn about that.” Sure, Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country — some 177 million Muslims live there — but the very fact that Mr. Obama once lived and went to school there would make choosing it seem like cheating.
Baghdad? Definitely out-of-the-box, but it could appear to validate the Iraq war, which Mr. Obama opposed. Beirut? Too many Hezbollah members — Secret Service would flip its collective lid — and anyway, the Lebanese president has always been a Christian.
Tehran? Too soon for that. Amman? Been there, done that. Islamabad? Too dangerous. Ankara? Too safe. Plus the Turks aren’t going to be too crazy about being used for outreach to the Muslim world when they’re trying to join the European Union.
I asked a senior Turkish diplomat what he thought. He immediately started acting, well, diplomatic. “We don’t have a problem with our Islamic identity,” he said. “But our system is secular.”
Riyadh? Mr. Obama’s national security aides say no.
Kuwait City? Abu Dhabi? Doha? “I don’t think it will be in the Gulf,” one foreign policy adviser to Mr. Obama said.
See? It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected.
The Secret Service won’t like it one bit, but Cairo is no Islamabad. I called the Egyptian Embassy in Washington to ask officials there what they thought. Someone from Mr. Obama’s team had already mentioned the possibility, although embassy officials said Egypt has not been approached about a possible presidential trip to Cairo.
Did you notice that? "Teheran? Too soon for that." Which means that at some point Teheran might be kosher to give an Outreach Speech. Some points to consider:
* President elect B. Hussein has said he would favor unconditional talks with the Iranian regime
* Ahmadinejad congratulated President elect B. Hussein with his victory
* Just last week, Ahmadinejad threatened again with the destruction of the Jewish state.
Am I awake or am I dreaming?