President Obama is trying to use Osama bin Laden’s death to transform the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim World. Officials say he is preparing a “wide-ranging” speech to argue that bin Laden’s death and the Arab spring of pro-democracy uprisings signal that Al Qaeda can no longer claim to represent Muslim aspirations. The speech, which will be delivered before his trip to Europe on May 23rd, will make the argument that bin Laden is the past and populist movements are the future. (The civil wars and violent crackdowns aspect will probably be glossed over.) The White House is already on message, booking American diplomats to telegraph the speech on Arab TV and radio stations.
Naturally Al Qaeda sees bin Laden’s death a little differently: as an occasion for new and terrorizing threats. On Islamic extremist websites, Nasser al-Wahishi, the head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a former bin Laden associate, warned Americans that “jihad is glowing brighter” now and that “what is coming is greater and worse.”
One aspect of Obama’s speech remains undecided. Diplomats from Middle East say the surge towards democracy is raising expectations about ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the White House is still debating whether Obama should outline a concrete plan for revitalizing talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestine during his public address. Perhaps ending Al Qaeda and bringing peace to the Middle East seems a little ambitious for a day at the podium.