Obama’s Arab sting

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pres­i­dent Obama came into of­fice with the self-ap­pointed mis­sion of heal­ing the breach be­tween the United States and the Is­lamic world. He likened his goal to the civil rights strug­gle, ex­plain­ing that Mus­lims faced dis­crim­i­na­tion at home and mis­un­der­stand­ing abroad and that his pre­de­ces­sor had only made mat­ters worse. By adopt­ing a more ob­se­quious tone to­ward Is­lam, he rea­soned, the mis­un­der­stand­ings could be dealt with and a new era of peace and part­ner­ship would re­sult.

A new poll from the non­par­ti­san Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute shows the ef­fort in tat­ters, with Mid­dle Eastern­ers’ opin­ion of the United States lower than it was at the end of the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­mi­nis- tra­tion. The sur­vey tracks with other data, such as a May study by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter’s Global Attitude Pro­ject, that show ini­tial en­thu­si­asm for Mr. Obama col­lapsed af­ter he failed to meet in­flated ex­pec­ta­tions. Amer­i­can fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings in Egypt are down to 5 per­cent, lower than they were at the end of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, and a scant 3 per­cent of Egyp­tians say they agree with Mr. Obama’s poli­cies in the re­gion. Just 39 per­cent say they think the re­gion is bet­ter off since the “Arab Spring” up­ris­ings be­gan, while 45 per­cent say it is “too early to tell.”

Large num­bers of Arabs say the U.S. in­volve­ment in the war in Libya ei­ther has no im­pact on or wors­ens U.S.-Arab re­la­tions. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion went out of its way to get a go-ahead from the Arab League be­fore pur­su­ing the im­po­si­tion of a no-fly zone over Libya. Within a week of the Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tion, the Arab League had con­demned the bomb­ing cam­paign, which it said was not what it had signed on for with the no-fly zone. As the poll in­di­cates, Mr. Obama’s at­tempt to get a free pass to go to war with a re­gional leader did not make the Arab street any happier with Amer­ica.

The rea­sons for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poor show­ing in this and other polls are not hard to dis­cern. The prob­lem is not form but sub­stance, the bedrock in­ter­ests that di­vide Amer­ica from the Mid­dle East. Whether it is sup­port for Is­rael or for the many West­ern val­ues that Amer­ica pro­motes in the re­gion, it will take more than pan­der­ing to Is­lam to cross the di­vide.

Some­times the ad­min­is­tra­tion sim­ply seems at odds with it­self. In late June, the U.S. Em­bassy in Islamabad, Pak­istan, held a ho­mo­sex­ual pride cel­e­bra­tion to sup­port op­pressed ho­mo­sex­u­als in that coun­try. This fits with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­mo­tion of the ho­mo­sex­ual agenda, but in a coun­try like Pak­istan, such an event is need­lessly provoca­tive. Con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim re­li­gious lead­ers de­nounced the event as “cul­tural terrorism” and “tan­ta­mount to stab­bing the Mus­lim world in the chest.”

With outreach like that, Mr. Obama’s abysmal poll num­bers should come as no sur­prise.

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