President Obama’s address to Arabs recently aired on Al-Arabiya sends a message that Muslims haven’t heard in a good eight years. He wants to rebuild relationships and forge ahead partnerships in which all of us have a common interest, not only in fighting terrorism but finding common ground among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
These are only words and only time will tell whether his actions back up his rhetoric. I hope that his interview signals a new and improved relationship and is the beginning of a long road to repair the damage wrought by the previous administration.
The message as I see it is that diplomacy is the cornerstone in establishing and maintaining any relationship. Obama is at least now engaging in honest dialogue and has already taken a different path in US foreign policy by agreeing to close Guantanamo Bay and secret torture sites around the world.
He is engaging his military leaders in Iraq on a more proactive and practical level and is taking the time to explain his goals.Rather than a stance of “you are with us or against us” or using meaningless phrases like “war on terror” he is speaking directly and frankly but also showing respect to the people who are counting on him to do the right thing.
It’s interesting that he chose Al-Arabiya to deliver his message to the Middle East. The television station is Saudi-owned in Dubai. And, of course, recent comments by King Abdullah and in the commentary written by Prince Turki Al-Faisal in the Financial Times, that the US must alter its full and unconditional support of Israel to bring about a long-overdue peace, may have prompted Obama to choose Al-Arabiya to send a direct message to Saudis in particular.
Obama could have chosen Al-Jazeera with its larger audience, but he risked alienating the conservative base that view Al-Jazeera as a mouthpiece for terrorists. And the US-owned Al-Hurra, long favored by the Bush administration to speak down to Arabs, would only be greeted with laughter since most of us have no confidence in the station’s credibility.
So Obama’s appearance on Al-Arabiya was carefully crafted for the right effect by striking just the right tone in the right environment and to the right people in the birthplace of Islam and the land of the two holy mosques. Now we are waiting for him to make good on his promise to visit a Muslim leader to further repair almost a decade of damage.
Ironically, US conservatives and more than a few prominent Arabs were not impressed by Obama’s extension of the olive branch. There is no love lost between Saudis and Al-Qaeda, especially after the bombings and murders of more than a 100 innocent people in the Kingdom between 2003 and 2006. And there is even less affection for the Taleban with its repugnant tactics to enforce their odd ideas of Islam.
Throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls who want education or announcing on the radio the names of people they killed who committed some transgression against the Taleban regime does nothing but sicken most Muslims.Michael Goldfarb with the Weekly Standard complained that Obama’s language regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions was namby-pamby because Obama characterized Iran’s policy as “unhelpful” rather than just saying “no” to Iran.
Another observer noted that any tough assessment voiced by Obama to force Arabs to face their own problems and find their own solutions was absent.What I don’t understand is what is the point of alienating people you are supposed to help? Did Bush’s “tough” assessment help the Middle East with the Iraq invasion bring them closer to democracy? Are we on the road to solving these problems, which, in all honesty, have failed for much of the past 40 years due to an indifferent US government? Wouldn’t finding a peaceful solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of going to war in Iraq and talking tough to Iran have been a more productive way to helping us solve our regional problems?So now the US has a president who is talking with a much more pragmatic approach that I can only believe will be a world more productive than what we have seen so far.