Monday, November 30, 2009

The Arabs Get It, How About Our Press

Faoud Ajami has an excellent analysis of the perception of Obama in the Arab world one year into his presidency titled "The Arabs Have Stopped Applauding Obama." The gist is that the Arab "street" has figured this guy out and they are badly disappointed. The Iranians have him pegged as a weak Jimmy Carter - remember how much fun they had with him?

The key point of this article though is that anti-Americanism is just that. They don't like us very much - it had little to do with W. In fact, as Ajami points out, where the Palestinians were concerned, "Bush offered the Palestinians the gift of clarity—statehood but only after the renunciation of terror and the break with maximalism—Mr. Obama signaled a return to the dead ways of the past: a peace process where America itself is broker and arbiter."

For someone who grew up overseas, Obama has a terrifyingly bad tin ear for culture - the incessant bowing in the Orient is bad enough, but his blame everything on Bush governance has had serious consequences:

Steeped in an overarching idea of American guilt, Mr. Obama and his lieutenants offered nothing less than a doctrine, and a policy, of American penance. No one told Mr. Obama that the Islamic world, where American power is engaged and so dangerously exposed, it is considered bad form, nay a great moral lapse, to speak ill of one's own tribe when in the midst, and in the lands, of others.

The crowd may have applauded the cavalier way the new steward of American power referred to his predecessor, but in the privacy of their own language they doubtless wondered about his character and his fidelity. "My brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against the stranger," goes one of the Arab world's most honored maxims. The stranger who came into their midst and spoke badly of his own was destined to become an object of suspicion.

One year into this torturous Presidency our options are badly limited:

There is little Mr. Obama can do about this disenchantment. He can't journey to Turkey to tell its Islamist leaders and political class that a decade of anti-American scapegoating is all forgiven and was the product of American policies—he has already done that. He can't journey to Cairo to tell the fabled "Arab street" that the Iraq war was a wasted war of choice, and that America earned the malice that came its way from Arab lands—he has already done that as well. He can't tell Muslims that America is not at war with Islam—he, like his predecessor, has said that time and again.

And remember those surveys about how much they hated us over there? No change:

Now those surveys of 2009 bring findings from the world of Islam that confirm that the animus toward America has not been radically changed by the ascendancy of Mr. Obama. In the Palestinian territories, 15% have a favorable view of the U.S. while 82% have an unfavorable view. The Obama speech in Ankara didn't seem to help in Turkey, where the favorables are 14% and those unreconciled, 69%. In Egypt, a country that's reaped nearly 40 years of American aid, things stayed roughly the same: 27% have a favorable view of the U.S. while 70% do not. In Pakistan, a place of great consequence for American power, our standing has deteriorated: The unfavorables rose from 63% in 2008 to 68% this year.

So, as we have asked before, how's that "hopey change" working out for you?

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