Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Obama’s Outreach to Muslim World Teetering.

Jim Lobe over at Anti-War is touching on the fact that Obama's strategy to win over Muslim hearts and minds appears, at the moment, to be hitting the rocks.

From Pakistan – where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got an earful of growing anti-U.S. sentiment last week – to the West Bank and East Jerusalem – where Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has successfully defied Washington’s demands that he freeze Jewish settlement activity – events appear to have strayed far from the president’s original game plan.

I have not lost faith that Obama can turn all of this around, but I do think that he needs to be much more ruthless - and use the power of the presidency to it's full capacity - if he is to achieve all that he is capable of achieving.

The Pakistan situation is - and always was under George W Bush - a f@cking nightmare. The US is forcing the Pakistanis to engage in a war which they really don't want to engage in. I understand the American position, but I also understand why the Pakistani government are reticent to go into battle against the wishes of so many of their electorate.

The Israeli/Palestine argument is one which I have spoken of a thousand times. Nothing enrages Muslim opinion more than the feeling that the US will back Israel no matter how illegal her actions are, and sadly that has appeared to be continuing under Obama, especially after Clintons recent visit to the Middle East.

His decision to seek peace talks without a freeze on settlement building was understandable, but it came across as, once again, the US caving to Israeli intransigence.

"There is a general concern now, especially in the Arab world, that the administration is not delivering with respect to any issues in the region," said Chas Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who withdrew his appointment to chair the National Intelligence Council (NIC) earlier this year in the face of a media campaign by neoconservative critics close to Israel’s Likud Party.

"I think there’s been quite a difference between how Obama as a person is perceived and how the U.S. government as an institution is perceived," he added. "I think what may be happening is that Obama is sinking into the generally negative view of the U.S. government in the region rather than transcending it as he once did."

"He started really well, particularly in his speeches in Istanbul [in April] and in Cairo [in June], in changing how the region perceives America and in setting forth a vision of the kinds of relationships he wanted," said Steven Clemons, director of the American Strategy Project at the New America Foundation.

"But those words have not been followed up by the kind of deep restructuring of policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians that [former president Richard] Nixon implemented toward China," he added. "If he had done so, the trend lines we’re seeing in the region might not be as negative as they appear at the moment."

I agree with the statement of Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, who stated only last week that the Israel/Palestine situation is the "epicentre" of Muslim discontent with the US.

Obama won great support when he articulated his vision for a state of Palestine. The U-turns of the past few days have caused great consternation and doubt.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa:

"[W]e are once again the same vicious circle we were in in the 1990s," he said, while other Arab commentators argued that it was difficult at this point to distinguish between Obama’s policy and the Annapolis process pursued by Bush in his last year in office.

"There had been growing skepticism in the region, and I suspect this apparent capitulation to Netanyahu and the Likud will turn skepticism into suspicion," Freeman told IPS.

Obama needs to turn this around. And he can only do so with positive results on the ground.

At the moment he appears to be trying to do this whilst appeasing Netanyahu. That will never work. Most Muslims understand that Netanyahu has no interest in peace. He wants land.

Only when Obama demonstrates that he understands this will Muslims begin to believe that he is not simply giving them "words."

Click here for full article.

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