President Obama's trip to the Middle East and Europe is making a difference. The speech to the Muslim world, although tempered with commentators' reservations regarding aspirations that will eventually have to be matched with actions, has been for the most part well received. If nothing else, President Obama has been acclaimed for truthfully expressing why things are so difficult in the Middle East and reaching out to change patterns that have been established over decades and centuries of conflict.
The overall diplomatic venture is a study in paradox. Beginning in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, a faith that embraces other faiths and advocates peace, yet has spawned some sects of Islam that are more hostile to Western ideas than any other. Speaking from Egypt, a country in the Arab/Islamic world but not one whose leadership characterizes the type of democratic leadership that the West might advocate. Commenting about Isreal's violation of agreements on territorial boundaries and unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of Palestine yet going to Buchenwald with the Chancellor of Germany and one of the most notable of all holocaust survivors (Eli Weisel) to visit the death camp that most represents the abuse and denigration of Jews. Going to Normandy to commemorate the landing of Allied forces that, while sacrificing so many American lives, marked the turning point of WWII. A series of dramatic and stunning contrasts.
Some may see in this trip the unfolding of contradictions that could not possibly contribute to coherent foreign policy. Yet for a "Third Culture Kid" whose life has been spent in different nations, cultures, and socioeconomic pockets, this trip reflects the reality of a world that is divided and broken but that has to let go of the suffering and pain if it is to move ahead into a new age.
It will be interesting to see what ultimately comes of the June 2009 Paradox Tour of President Obama. If nothing else, it will have to be remembered as one that faced multiple conflicting realities that must somehow come to peace with each other - the definition of paradox.