In his seventh and final State of the Union address, President Obama played up the state of the economy, played down the threat of the Islamic State, and introduced a new effort to beat cancer. He also found time for several not-so-subtle swipes at the Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
But for those versed in international relations, there was one line in particular that jumped out from his hour-long speech.
“The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia,” Obama said.
Thousands of years? Many of the conflicts in the Middle East don’t even date back a decade.
The Twitterati spotted the gaffe, and pounced. Obama was accused of peddling convenient falsehoods while others said he was espousing concepts unworthy of an undergraduate university student. Many said that Obama was not only excusing the conflicts, but in effect was making them seem normal and intractable.
OK, we’ve been had, we’ve been took, hoodwinked, bamboozled,run amok & condemned to endure "conflicts that date back millennia". #SOTU
— Hisham Melhem (@hisham_melhem) January 13, 2016
"Conflicts that date back millennia" is a self-serving falsehood. #SOTU
— Mike Doran (@Doranimated) January 13, 2016
Good grief. Middle East's conflicts "go back millenia". #SOTU
— Kyle W. Orton (@KyleWOrton) January 13, 2016
— Michele Dunne (@MicheleDDunne) January 13, 2016
This is straight propaganda: "Middle East is going through a transformation rooted in conflicts that date back millennia." #sotu
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) January 13, 2016
Saying Middle East change is routed in conflicts going back millennia is code for "there's nothing we can do about it." Both untrue. #SOTU
— Michael Petrou (@michaelpetrou) January 13, 2016
Contemporary conflicts in the Middle East are not "millennia-old," they're the direct result of modern era imperialism & colonialism #SOTU
— Naomi Dann (@naomi_dann) January 13, 2016
Weakest moment of the speech is the claim that the Middle East is embroiled in conflicts that date back millennia. No. #SOTU
— Laila Lalami (@LailaLalami) January 13, 2016
— Alia Malek (@AliaMalek) January 13, 2016
Vox’s Max Fisher said that the comments were potentially dangerous. He wrote: “It risked perpetuating the widespread "ancient hatreds" myth that feeds two dangerous and mistaken beliefs about the Middle East: 1) that these people just hate each other because that's how they are "over there," and 2) that the problems run so deep that they can't be solved and we shouldn't bother trying.”
As the Ph.D. candidates Benjamin Denison and Jasmin Mujanović have previously pointed out in the Washington Post, “Writing off a conflict as based in “ancient hatreds” makes it easy for international actors to excuse their lack of coherent policy, or worse, to offer simplistic solutions.”
Still, some found a silver lining, saying that the rationale could be used to better understand the partisan divide in Congress.
Nadar, a writer from Syria, tweeted:
I dnt watch #SOTU bc I know Obama can't solve Republican-Democrat schism. These problems are rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.
— Nader (@DarthNader) January 13, 2016