President Obama seemed to brush off the flakes from the Democrats’ shellacking and return to a more confident, progressive tone in a speech before roughly 6,000 young people at the University of Indonesia. “Let me begin with a simple statement: Indonesia is part of me,” he said in the country’s language, going on to call for a common ground in the fight against terrorist extremists. “I have made it clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam. … Those who want to build must not cede ground to terrorists who seek to destroy.” The statement evoked the same tone as his speech in Cairo in 2009, except with a more personal bent, including waxing nostalgic that he ran along the paddy field catching dragonflies (while eating apple pie). American audiences back at home will no doubt appreciate the president’s refusal to tiptoe around nagging fears of his religious affiliation and recognize that Indonesians, second-class citizens of the Arab-centric Muslim world, also represent “the world’s largest population of tolerant, cosmopolitan Muslims, Muslims we can partner with, relate to, and, frankly, not be frightened of,” as the Daily Beast’s Tunku Varadarajan puts it. Or we could just talk some more about his birth certificate. Either way.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is dealing with the fallout from Obama’s criticism, during the same visit to Indonesia, of Israel’s plans to build 1,000 housing units in a contested area of East Jerusalem, stalling out talks between Israel and Palestine. “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” said the president, adding, “Each of these incremental steps can end up breaking trust.”
The notion of embracing the Muslim world during the same trip in which he’s willing to rebuke Benjamin Netanyahu (who fired back with “Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel”) is politically risky at a time when the president has precious little political capital to spend. But it’s encouraging to see Obama use his post-midterm get-the-hell-out-of-Dodge card to actually start espousing uncompromising views that it seems he believes in.