Does President Obama have a Napoleon Complex? It would appear likely. In 1798, Napoleon declared he had "more respect" than the local Egyptian rulers did "for your God, his prophet and the Qur'an."
Usually this Complex happens to short men. But in his case it has more to do with wanting to be seen as the Superman who saved the World. Maybe it's a Superman Complex.
Howard Fineman writes for Newsweek:
In the diplomatic community, there is little doubt the president is doing the right thing in Cairo. "President Bush liked to talk about our shared values, but it came off as didactic," said Tamara Wittes of the Brookings Institution. "His escalating series of military interventions left people in Muslim-majority countries feeling imposed upon. Obama's speech is a game-changer, because he's going to say that we are partners and equals."
That is nice, and who could argue with its value? But let's not underestimate the risks, large and small. This sounds picayune, but Obama and his speechwriters had better be careful. A single faulty reference will subject his whole speech to ridicule by the conservative scholars whom the president aims to neutralize. People will expect Obama, unlike Bush, to know what he's talking about.
Tone is crucial as well, and is hard to finesse in any foreign land, let alone in Egypt: so ancient, so proud of its past, so layered with social ritual and resentments. Obama is aware of the problem, but Islamist bloggers already are lying in wait, and already derisively compare him to Napoleon, who prepared his invasion of Egypt in 1798 by declaring he had "more respect" than the local rulers did "for your God, his prophet and the Qur'an."
A bigger risk is that the incorrigibles in the neighborhood—the true terrorists—will see him as a naif and be emboldened by that thought. But the biggest danger for Obama is that he will become a prisoner of his own words, and the high expectations they create. The human-rights community expects him to reflect its concerns about political repression. Palestinians will want him to address the running sore of Gaza, at least. Announcing student exchanges or new development programs won't be enough. "I'm sure he'll give a fine speech," said John Esposito, an expert on Islam at Georgetown University. "The better it is, the more action people will expect. People are getting very tired of words."
But not Obama. The man is just gearing up. Count me as skeptical. I know that words worked for him in Philly, but in Cairo they will merely be the beginning—not the end—of the story.
Fineman is Newsweek's Senior Washington Correspondent and an analyst for MSNBC.
© Janet Crain
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