'Conciliatory' Obama speaks to Al-Arabiya

Will Obama be any more successful than George Bush in reaching out to Muslims? Bush confidante and friend Karen Hughes ran a high profile effort out of the State Department that was supposed to counter the propaganda coming from the Arab press about the United States while extending a hand to the worldwide Muslim community in friendship.

For a variety of reasons -- not all of them Bush's or Hughes' fault -- the effort fell flat on its face. Hughes not only had to counter propaganda from Muslim countries but also the hysterical and oftentimes false reporting from the western press on Bush and US intentions toward Muslim countries. In addition, the idea that Bush was supposed to "apologize" for liberating 25 million Muslims from tyranny was just never going to happen, no matter how much al-Jazeera and other Arab media demanded it.

In short, it was an effort doomed to fail from the outset.

Now here's Barack Obama, World Superstar, beloved of billions, inviting the less hysterical than al-Jazeera (but still dishonest) al-Arabiya TV into the White House for a chat. And the interview goes about as well as you'd expect -- for Muslims. For US interests? Not so much:

The interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya Network was a dramatic piece of public diplomacy aimed at capitalizing on the new American president's international popularity, though it balanced America's traditional commitment to Israel, whose security Obama called "paramount.'

"I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries," Obama said, according to a White House transcript. "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy."

The Al Arabiya interview, directed squarely at Muslims around the world, revived a vision of personal, symbolic international change that was in the air when Obama - with his far-flung family members, and complicated story - launched his campaign. It was a vision, and an aspect of his story, that the candidate buried when, in 2007, was forced to combat whispering campaigns about his own faith.

But by giving his first interview to the Arabic network, Obama signaled his continuing belief in his personal power as a symbol of America against the temptations of Islamic militancy. He even dismissed "bankrupt" ideas and policies that don't improve children's health care, jabbing at "nervous" Al Qaeda leaders in language that echoed his campaign against George W. Bush.

"Echoed his campaign" against Bush? Well, I might gently point out that Mr. Obama did not run a campaign against Mr. Bush except that he tried to superimpose the former president's face on John McCain every time he opened his mouth. I get what the Politico guy is saying but I guess accuracy in media doesn't count for much in the Age of Obama. Must be that "international change in the air." Better check the water too.

And aren't you a little curious what Osama Bin Laden thinks of this guy? I hardly think Osama will react the same way to criticism that our Mr. Bush did. Maybe Obama thinks he will.

But it is US interests in the Middle East where the rhetorical rubber will meet the real-world road. And here, President Obama humbly begs forgiveness from Muslims for our sins in freeing the followers of the prophet in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan from the rule of some of the less faithful followers of Islam like the Taliban and Saddam Hussein not to mention the infidel Milosevic.

Somewhere in the universe, that has to count for something. Not in this White House. Not with most Muslims apparently. Instead, the order of the day is apology and humility. Now a little humility is always a good thing. But Obama goes and really makes a hash of things when he plays into the Muslim narrative that Bush and the US never listens, we only "dictate:"

The occasion for this interview was the departure of Obama's special envoy, George Mitchell, to the Middle East, and a more aggressive and optimistic approach to that conflict than some argued that the circumstances dictated. The president offered no timeline for peace, but a firm view that a Palestinian state remains within reach.

"What I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don't always know all the factors that are involved," Obama said. "What we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there's a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs." 

Obama's interview was marked by attempts to sympathize with the concerns of ordinary Muslims, particularly on the question of living conditions in the West Bank. But he sought a conciliatory tone throughout the interview, at one point avoiding even restating American policy, and his own platform, than an Iranian nuclear weapon is plainly unacceptable.

"Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?" asked the interviewer, Al Arabiya Washington Bureau Chief Hisham Melhem.

Obama responded only generally, expressing disapproval of an Iranian bomb but not the flat condemnation that is standard from American officials.

Man, I can just see King Abdullah and other Gulf State leaders furrowing their brows after hearing that statement. For 8 years we have spent a considerable amount of diplomatic effort and capital in ramming sanctions on Iran through the security council, warning of the danger to Iran's neighbors and the entire civilized world of an Iran with the bomb. And here's our "conciliatory" president saying "so sorry - we didn't really mean it." He also termed Iranian support for terrorists and trying build nukes " not helpful

Well, I suppose that's one way to put it. I personally would not have used that term.
"Unacceptable" perhaps. Maybe even "deal-breaker" as in "It is a deal breaker regarding negotiations until Tehran stops supporting groups that want to kill innocent Americans,"

But that's just me. What does our Celebrity President have to say?

You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran," he said. "Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful."

Does Obama believe that Iran actually wants to be "helpful?" Obviously yes. What exactly they want to be helpful about - like wiping Israel off the map and blowing us to kingdom come - might not sit well with most of the rest of us but that's because we fear the inheritors of Xerxes ambitions. We must be like our new president and banish our fears while trusting that the fanatics in Tehran are just funnin' around and don't really mean it when they say "Death to America."

Glad we got all that straightened out, aren't you?

Humility has its place in international relations. Walking softly and carrying a big stick is always good advice - advice not followed always by Obama's predecessor.

But abject surrender to the faux sensibilities of Muslims, who are fed a barrage of the most nauseating anti-American propaganda from a media that deliberately obscures the truth and plays to the fears of a billion people by giving space to the most idiotic conspiracy theories on the planet? Somewhere, an American president has to draw a line.

In his eagerness to be loved, Obama granted legitimacy to lies, half truths, and urban legends about America that have been swallowed whole by the gullible masses of Muslims. It remains to be seen how this will play out diplomatically. But I am not confident it will do anything except raise expectations that can never be met.

Hat Tip Ed Lasky

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