Obama On al-Arabiya

January 27, 2009

And Middle East expert and George Washington University political science professor Marc Lynch is very pleased:

” He repeatedly emphasized his intention of moving past the iron walls of the ‘war on terror’ and ‘clash of civilizations’ which so dominated the Bush era. ‘My job is to communicate to the Muslim world that the United States is not your enemy,’ Obama said, emphasizing as in his inaugural address that he is ‘ready to initiate a new partnership [with the Muslim world] based on mutual respect and mutual interest.’ And where so much of the Bush administration’s ‘public diplomacy’ was about manipulating and lecturing, Obama begins — as he should — with listening: ‘what I told [Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating..so let’s listen.’

He clearly understands that this won’t be easy, that there are real conflicts and obstacles and enemies. He obviously recognizes that the Gaza crisis and eight years of the Bush administration have left a heavy toll on America’s reputation and credibility. He stressed the importance of engaging on Israeli-Arab issues right away, the need for new ideas and approaches, and the interrelationships among the region’s issues that I’ve always seen as the key to his Middle East policy (‘I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan. These things are interrelated.’)

And above all, he understands that words are only the beginning, and that ultimately deeds and policy will determine Arab views of the United States. Public diplomacy is not about marketing a lousy policy — it’s about engaging honestly, publicly, and directly with foreign publics about those policies, explaining and listening and adjusting where appropriate. Obama gets it:

‘But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration’s actions. And I think that what you will see over the next several years is that I’m not going to agree with everything that some Muslim leader may say, or what’s on a television station in the Arab world — but I think that what you’ll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity. I want to make sure that I’m speaking to them, as well.’

I couldn’t have written this script better myself.”

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