OBAMA IN CAIRO…. Early on in his speech in Egypt this morning, President Obama set the tone: “No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors.”

And with that, the U.S. president, with the eyes of the region upon him, delivered a powerful speech that addressed head on some issues that some leaders may have been tempted to avoid. Indeed, Obama reminded his receptive audience(s) of some uncomfortable issues he no longer wants to see swept under the rug.

President Obama pledged on Thursday to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” imploring America and the Islamic world to drop their suspicions of one another and forge new alliances to confront violent extremism and heal religious divides.

In a speech at Cairo University, the president delivered a sweeping message that was forceful and at times scolding as he promoted democracy in Egypt, sent a warning to Israelis against building new settlements, and acknowledged that the United States had fallen short of its ideals, particularly in the Iraq war. […]

“We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek,” he said. “A world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected.” […]

“I consider it part of my responsibility, as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” Mr. Obama said. “But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

He strode onto the stage to loud applause and a standing ovation in the conference hall. He conceded that his speech came at “a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world.”

But he sought to explain that he represented the new face of American leadership.

And explain he did. Obama explained his belief that the “sources of tension” between the United States and much of the Middle East much be addressed “squarely.” He proceeded to list seven “specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together”: Confronting “violent extremism in all of its forms,” the situation between “Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world,” the “rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons,” the spread of democracy in the region, the importance of religious liberty, women’s rights, and economic development and opportunity.

Let no one say the president ducked the hard questions.

I’ll have more on the speech later today, but for now, it appears Obama was intent on establishing a new foundation for the relationship between the Middle East and the United States. It was a dramatic success.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.