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Obama and the Arabs

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Consider these facts: Barack Obama is the first president in history to directly address the Muslim world in an inaugural address. His first phone call to a foreign head of state was to the Palestinian Authority’s Ahmoud Abbas. And then came the word that the honor of his first sit-down interview as president had gone to Al Arabiya—self-described as “the leading news channel in the Arab world.”

With all of the issues vying for action by the president, both foreign and domestic, why has President Obama made a priority of communicating with the Muslim world this early and this often in his first week in office? Certainly the Middle East conflict requires the attention of the United States, but why has this president chosen to enter that process by speaking first with the party the United States has historically viewed as the instigator of the conflict?

The media would answer the question by suggesting that the “cowboy diplomacy” of George W. Bush has tarnished America’s image in the Arab world, therefore Obama can waste no time reaching out to them in an effort to restore our credibility.  Never mind that the Bush Doctrine actually liberated 50 million people in the Muslim world. Pay no attention to the fact that young girls and women are now being educated in Afghanistan because President Bush took decisive action to root out the oppressive Taliban regime there.

Rather than use his interview with Arab television to point the Arab world to the positive results America has achieved for them, President Obama used this opportunity to throw America under the bus. If you actually heard his interview with Al Arabiya, it would be difficult to conclude that President Obama did anything other than point to America as the source of the problem in the Arab world rather than a collaborator with them in finding a solution.

The interview wasn’t into its first two minutes before Obama tells the Arab interviewer that, when it comes to the on-going Arab-Israeli conflict in Gaza, the United States has acted more like an ignorant dictator:

…what I told (Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell) is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don't always know all the factors that are involved.

It’s all downhill from there, with President Obama later implying that the United States hasn’t been respectful in its treatment of the Muslim world: “Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect.”

He also implied that the American people have a prejudiced view of Muslims, owing to the attacks of September 11, and therefore do not understand the Muslim world: “My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives.”

But what should be of utmost concern to Americans is the way Obama redefined the priorities of the president:

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.

Obama believes that equal to the interests of the United States, the president must also promote the interests of “ordinary people” in the Muslim world. This is a radical departure from the president’s oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The president isn’t the president of the world, or even limited constituencies within the world. He is President of the United States—and nothing is equal to his constitutional responsibilities to the people of this country.

President Obama seems to think himself uniquely qualified to address the Muslim world because he has lived among them: “I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries … the largest one, Indonesia.”

Some have even questioned whether or not he is—or at least was—one of them. When his Muslim father enrolled him in school in Indonesia he recorded Barack’s religion as “Islam.”  In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos during the campaign Obama referred to “my Muslim faith.” The media wrote it off as “a slip of the tongue.” 

Throughout his campaign for president Obama insisted that he was a Christian, and the American people took him at his word. But so what if President Obama really is a Muslim? America is a pluralistic society that guarantees the freedom of religion as a fundamental right.  The “so what” may have just been answered in this interview.

After hearing the American president speak in negative tones about his country to the largest Arab television audience in the world, it is fair to ask whether or not this president really sees protecting the interests of his country as his first priority.

Is it possible that Obama’s haste to speak with the Muslim world has more to do with his affinity with them than it does America’s supposed marred image among them? The Al Arabiya interview leaves one wondering if Obama’s foreign policy isn’t influenced by a view that it is somehow he and Muslims against the United States.

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