CBS: Obama Speech ‘Historic,’ ‘Powerful,’ ‘Professorial’

Harry Smith and Reza Aslan, CBS On Thursday, CBS Early Show co-host Julie Chen declared: "President Obama seeks to reset Mideast relations in a historic speech in Cairo." Co-host Harry Smith gushed: "Powerful, far-ranging speech this morning...he was not only presidential, he was also professorial. He was very much a teacher this morning. He was giving Americans and Muslims a history lesson."

In a later segment, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer shared Smith’s description of Obama as a history professor: "I mean, one thing I didn't know, he pointed out that Morocco, a Muslim country, was the first to recognize the United States. He also pointed out there is a mosque in every state in the United States of America. This was, as you say, this was Professor Obama...during a lot of this, and I think that will have an impact."

Smith got reaction to Obama’s speech from CBS analyst Reza Aslan, who praised the President’s criticism of Israel: "...some very frank talk about issues, about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict... there were some words that Obama used that had never been used before by any American president, including the word ‘occupation,’ and the word ‘Palestine.’ I think this is going to be really remarkable, the way that the Muslim world reacts."

While talking to Shieffer in the following segment, co-host Maggie Rodriguez similarly focused on Obama’s willingness to go after Israel: "...it was striking to hear President Obama talk in an – in an Arab country about America's unbreakable bond with Israel, but yet say directly to Israel, quote, ‘it is time for these settlements to stop.’ That was a huge concession." Schieffer added: "...the fact that this president went to the center of the Arab world and made that statement. He said no one can deny Israel's right to exist. But neither can we deny the Palestinians' right to exist."

Schieffer went on to rave about the speech, declaring: "This was a remarkable speech...The most remarkable thing to me was just simply that he made it...That he would go to Cairo and that he would speak with the candor he did...the fact that he was there, that Muslims got a chance to see him, to hear him, as he said, you know, he looks like them. This will have a great impact."

At that point, Schieffer remarked: "This was the speech, Maggie, I think that was aimed at the next generation...The younger – the younger people of the Arab world." Rodriguez agreed: "Exactly...Because a third of the population is under 15 years of age. Potentially the next generation of radical Islam. So his goal, much like it was during the presidential election here in America, was to reach the young people." Schieffer replied: "Yes. Very much so."

Here is the full transcript of Smith’s exchange with Aslan:

7:00AM TEASE:

JULIE CHEN: Breaking news, President Obama seeks to reset Mideast relations in a historic speech in Cairo.

BARACK OBAMA: I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.

7:00AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: We want to take a picture of President Obama delivering his speech in Cairo this morning. And let's listen in.

BARACK OBAMA: -stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth t effort. That we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There's so much fear. So much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people-

SMITH: Powerful, far-ranging speech this morning that President Obama has delivered in Cairo. Speaking about a new beginning, speaking about unequivocal support for a two-state solution. Talking about Iran and Afghanistan. Talking about U.S.-Muslim relations. We have much analysis of this speech this morning and we'll get to that in just a second, as we welcome you to the Early Show this morning.

7:02AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: First, President Obama's highly anticipated speech in Cairo. It has been billed as an attempt to reach out to the Muslim world. We want to go live to Cairo now and CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid. Chip, good morning.

CHIP REID: Well, good morning, Harry. The President says he has one fundamental purpose in giving this speech here in Cairo, to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.

BARACK OBAMA: So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace. Those who promote conflict, rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

REID: To open a door of understanding, the President invoked his own connections to Islam.

OBAMA: I'm a Christian. But my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy I spent several years in Indonesia, and heard the call of Yazan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk.

REID: He said it's time for critics of the Muslim world to shed their mis-perceptions.

OBAMA: Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires, timeless poetry and cherished music, elegant calligraphy, and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

REID: But he also said Muslims must end their negative stereotypes of America.

OBAMA: Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.

REID: And the President went through what he called some ‘blunt truth-telling,’ on about seven different issues, urging the Muslim world to do more on everything from democracy, to women's rights, to Middle East peace. Harry.

SMITH: Chip Reid in Cairo this morning, thank you. CBS News analyst and Mideast expert Reza Aslan joins us now from London. Good morning.

REZA ASLAN: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: How do you think this is going to play in the Muslim world?

ASLAN: Well, look, this speech, as Chip said, was billed as a truth-telling moment, and it – that it certainly was. I mean there was the usual platitudes that we expected with regard to mutual respect, the things that Obama has said before. But there was also some very frank talk about issues, about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, women's rights, democracy, and especially, again, when it comes to the Arab/Israeli conflict, there were some words that Obama used that had never been used before by any American president, including the word ‘occupation,’ and the word ‘Palestine.’ I think this is going to be really remarkable, the way that the Muslim world reacts.

SMITH: It was very interesting to watch this president in action. It was – he was not only presidential, he was also professorial. He was very much a teacher this morning. He was giving Americans and Muslims a history lesson, and among the things that he came down hard on was the support for the two-state solution. But he also was so strong in his condemnation of Al Qaeda, and the Taliban.

ASLAN: He was. And he did so in a very sophisticated manner, bringing up a fundamental fact that the Muslim victims of Al Qaeda, and these violent extremists, far outnumber the Christian or Jewish, or for that matter, American, victims. And that did get a good applause line. One thing that I thought was very interesting, and watching this speech, that really had the most sort of fascinating mixed reaction in that crowd, was when he talked very forcefully about women's rights in the Muslim world. I thought that that was really fascinating, and I – and I expect that that's going to get a lot of debate in the Muslim world, which is precisely what Obama wanted.

SMITH: And also talking about democracy in Egypt, in a place where free speech is not exactly a common currency.

ASLAN: Yes, I have to say that if there was a weakness in this speech, it was probably the democracy talk. This was something that Egyptians especially wanted to hear some more from the Obama administration. Particularly in what the United States was willing to do to actively promote democracy. Perhaps he was a bit hamstrung by the fact that he was in Egypt as a guest of Hosni Mubarak, who certainly is one of the most dictatorial leaders of that region. But at – at the very least, he made a re-commitment of the United States to pursue political development, and more importantly, he talked about economic development as the key to socio-political development, and I think that that is something that the Muslim world is going to appreciate.

SMITH: Reza Aslan thank you very much for your expertise this morning. Do appreciate it. The whole world is going to be talking about this speech most of the day today. And we're going to continue talking about it, too, some more.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC