Both Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl and Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami, in the Wall Street Journal, have op-eds Monday on the Arab world’s dissatisfaction with President Obama. Diehl’s piece focuses on the failure of the adminstration to support Arab reformers:
Arab reformers, who for most of this decade have been trying to break down the barriers to social and political modernization in the Middle East, have also begun to conclude that the Obama administration is more likely to harm than to help them.
"All Arab countries are craving change — and many of us believed Obama was a tool for change," says Aseel al- Awadhi, a Kuwaiti member of parliament. "Now we are losing that hope."
Awadhi, one of four women elected to Kuwait’s parliament this year, is part of a movement that the Bush administration loudly promoted and sporadically attempted to help — though the effort steadily waned during George W. Bush’s second term. The Obama administration, in contrast, often speaks as if it does not recognize the existence of an Arab reform movement. Bush’s frequently articulated argument that political and social liberalization offer the best antidote to Islamic extremism appears absent from this administration’s thinking.
"People in Jordan are beginning to understand that the United States will not play the same role as under the old administration on democracy," said Musa Maaytah, Jordan’s minister of political development — who, like Awadhi, visited Washington recently for a conference sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy. "People think that the U.S. has many issues that for it are a priority, and they prefer to have stability in these countries more than democracy."
Ajami also points to the lack of support for those opposing oppression in the Arab and Muslim world:
Mr. Obama could not make up his mind: He was at one with "the people" and with the rulers who held them in subjugation. The people of Iran who took to the streets this past summer were betrayed by this hapless diplomacy—Mr. Obama was out to "engage" the terrible rulers that millions of Iranians were determined to be rid of.
On Nov. 4, on the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran, the embattled reformers, again in the streets, posed an embarrassing dilemma for American diplomacy: "Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them," they chanted. By not responding to these cries and continuing to "engage" Tehran’s murderous regime, his choice was made clear. It wasn’t one of American diplomacy’s finest moments.
He also notes that surveys show much of the Arab world continues to be a hotbed of anti-Americanism and faults the diplomatic choices that the administration has made, from focusing on settlements in the Israeli-Palestinian issue to Kashmir with India. And Ajami argues that Obama’s willingness to criticize past American policy is not respected in the Arab world :
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.