President Barack Obama gave his first television interview to the Arabic language network, Al Arabiya, to explain Middle Eastern policy. This in and of itself was not a bad thing. But some of the things President Obama had to say were unsettling.
On the Israel-Palestinian conflict, President Obama said, “And so what I told him 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.” President Obama likely meant “dictating” to Muslim countries, though one would be hard pressed to find an example of it beyond, “stop supporting terrorism and make peace” which would seem reasonable.
The United States has “started by dictating” in the past by suggesting to Israel that it should not be so vigorous in fighting Palestinian terrorists. The United States has also dictated a formula of “land for peace” in which Israel would give up occupied land and the Palestinians would agree to make peace. This formula has not worked out very well, as one might observe in Gaza in which Israel gave up land and in return got rockets.
Nevertheless, Barack Obama continued by dictating in regards to what he expects Israel to do. “But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.” That is a not so subtle hint that Israel will, once again, have to make concessions to appease the Palestinians. This constitutes a return to the mindset that Israel is the problem in the Middle East rather than the people trying to destroy it.
On Al Qaeda, President Obama said, “–what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” The rhetoric sounds almost exactly how Democrats have often admonished Republicans for standing in the way of Democratic policies. The problem is that Al Qaeda doesn’t really care about education or health care. All it cares about is destroying who they perceive to be the enemies of Islam. That usually means wrecking education (especially of women) and health care.
President Obama’s thoughts one Iran were even more disturbing. “But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” There was nothing here about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons or its threats to obliterate Israel. President Obama seems to think that he can make Iran behave by “talking” without clearly laying down what the consequences would be if it continues on its present course.
One gets the unsettling impression that President Barack Obama thinks that the players in the Middle East are like the gang bangers and slum dwellers he used to deal with as a community agitator in Chicago. Angry, to be sure. Occasionally violent, admittedly . But surely open to reasonable dialogue, sweetened with a lot of international assistance cash.
Believing all that, Barack Obama is an innocent abroad when it comes to the Middle East. For someone who once lived in a Muslim country, Barack Obama seems hopelessly naïve about the Middle East. The region is permeated with passions brought about by thousands of years of history and cultures that many Americans do not understand. Hamas uses children’s programming, with their own cartoon characters, to teach children the glories of suicide bombing. Iran has a leader who denies the Holocaust. Dealing with people who do that takes a lot more than listening to their grievances and trying to persuade everybody to just get along. The sooner Barack Obama realizes this, the better it will be for him and for the Middle East.
Source: Obama tells Al Arabiya peace talks should resume, Al Arabiya, January 27th, 2009