Saturday, June 13, 2009

President Obama and the Middle East: Mr. Popularity or Mr. Sucker?

By Barry Rubin

A lot of Americans exult that President Barack Obama has made the United States loved again in the world.

Of course, a parent who lets the kids stay out all night, a boss who gives more holidays than work, or a
person who gives away their possessions to friends is going to be popular, too.

The important questions to ask are:

--Are the things someone does to be popular wrecking chances of getting the job done or of having a positive influence?

--Do the people who are the beneficiaries of this largesse look on the “popular” one with liking or amused contempt?

The New York Times had the temerity to suggest that Obama’s policies and Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Lebanon brought about a reasonably good result in the elections there.

This is nonsense, the kind that so often comes from the mirror-gazing, egocentric approach so often prevailing in America and the West. The overwhelming reason that Hizballah lost in the end was that Christians who voted last time for Michael Aoun voted against him this time because they hated his alliance with Hizballah.

We are also told that Obama has made America popular in Iran. According to a reliable poll, albeit one made just before his Cairo speech, showed that Iranians’ favorable views of the United States actually declined from the “bad old Bush” days of February 2008, going down from 34 to 29 percent.

I suspect that a lot of Iranians liked Bush’s approach because they saw it as being against a repressive regime they hated. In theory, more nationalistic Iranians might like Obama better, but why should they since they don’t trust him and support the regime's ambitions? At any rate, it is the outcome of Iran’s election and who rules the country that counts.

I repeat a private statement made by an Arab Muslim living in the Gulf region who said, “We don’t want Obama to act like a Muslim or Arab. We want him to act like an American.”

A liberal reformist Arab thought that Obama is more genuinely popular in the Arabic-speaking world now but for the wrong reasons: “Parts of his speech sounded like a new Pan-Arab messiah come to usher the Arab world back into its rightful world dominion.” I’m not saying this was what he meant to say but how it sounded in Middle Eastern ears.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.