The Arabs Have Stopped Applauding Obama

A foreign policy of penance has won America no friends.

The Wall Street Journal
November 29, 2009

By FOUAD AJAMI

‘He talks too much,” a Saudi academic in Jeddah, who had once been smitten with Barack Obama, recently observed to me of America’s 44th president. He has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory.

He is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.

He has not made the world anew, history did not bend to his will, the Indians and Pakistanis have been told that the matter of Kashmir is theirs to resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the same intractable clash of two irreconcilable nationalisms, and the theocrats in Iran have not “unclenched their fist,” nor have they abandoned their nuclear quest.

There is little Mr. Obama can do about this disenchantment. He can’t journey to Turkey to tell its Islamist leaders and political class that a decade of anti-American scapegoating is all forgiven and was the product of American policies—he has already done that. He can’t journey to Cairo to tell the fabled “Arab street” that the Iraq war was a wasted war of choice, and that America earned the malice that came its way from Arab lands—he has already done that as well. He can’t tell Muslims that America is not at war with Islam—he, like his predecessor, has said that time and again…

…Mr. Obama’s election has not drained the swamps of anti-Americanism. That anti-Americanism is endemic to this region, an alibi and a scapegoat for nations, and their rulers, unwilling to break out of the grip of political autocracy and economic failure. It predated the presidency of George W. Bush and rages on during the Obama presidency…

…Steeped in an overarching idea of American guilt, Mr. Obama and his lieutenants offered nothing less than a doctrine, and a policy, of American penance. No one told Mr. Obama that the Islamic world, where American power is engaged and so dangerously exposed, it is considered bad form, nay a great moral lapse, to speak ill of one’s own tribe when in the midst, and in the lands, of others.

The crowd may have applauded the cavalier way the new steward of American power referred to his predecessor, but in the privacy of their own language they doubtless wondered about his character and his fidelity. “My brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against the stranger,” goes one of the Arab world’s most honored maxims. The stranger who came into their midst and spoke badly of his own was destined to become an object of suspicion…

The entire article can be read at WSJ.

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