A fleeting reference in an inauguration speech otherwise focused on domestic policy offers a clue to President Obama’s preferred course of action when dealing with Iran in the next four years.
“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully,” Obama said. “(It’s) not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”
Obama seemed to lay down the reasoning for his decision to engage diplomatically with America’s foes, first and foremost Iran. During Obama’s first term in office, negotiations with Iran where limited to a multilateral platform known as the P5+1 which includes the five permanent members on the United Nations Security Council and Germany. Reports from several months ago suggested that Obama, in his second term, would agree to engage in direct diplomatic talks with Iran if he feels such negotiations could be productive.
The President did not mention any country by name in his speech, but in a message of reassurance that to allies, presumably a definition which includes Israel, Obama promised that “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe.” He also pledged to support democracy across the world, including in the Middle East, where Arab nations are struggling to overthrow long standing dictators.
Obama’s speech, which broadly stressed the message of equality, had little other references specifically of interest to the Jewish community. It did not touch on issues of religion and made only few reference to faith, when speaking of equality and of God’s requirement to preserve the earth.
It was President Obama’s big day, with hundreds of thousands of supporters gathered in the National Mall and along Pennsylvania Avenue to greet the President as he enters his second term in office.
But is was also a big day for Chuck Schumer, the New York Jewish senator who at times seemed to assume the role of a proud father at his son’s bar mitzvah. As chairman of the congressional inaugural committee, Schumer served as the ceremony’s emcee and host. He opened the event with a call to “to renew our collective faith in the future of America.” Then he offered a toast (including an obligatory “l’chaim”) at the Congressional lunch for the President, but more than all he dominated many of the official photos of Obama’s swearing-in, prompting BuzzFeed to accuse Schumer of “photobombing” Obama’s inaugural pictures.
Schumer, it should be noted, had earned the right to share the limelight on inauguration day. As chairman of the congressional inaugural committee he has put in plenty of work in ensuring the festivities go ahead without distractions. He made sure lessons were learned from the 2009 inauguration in which invited VIP’s got stuck in lengthy security lines and did not make it to the swearing in ceremony.
Schumer was also in charge of deciding on the menu for the congressional lunch following the inauguration, a lunch which he insisted includes a New York touch and had the much tougher job of doling out the coveted inauguration invitations to congressional offices and withstanding pressure from those requesting more.
Those seeking a Jewish moment in Monday’s ceremony will have to turn to the inaugural poem, One Today, by Richard Blanco.
“Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello| shalom, buon giorno |howdy |namaste |or buenos días.”
There you have it. Shalom, in an inaugural poem.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.