Today, Dec. 4, marks six months since Barack Obama gave his milestone Cairo speech. America’s standing across the Muslim world, however, is starting to dwindle back to its status quo ante, for a simple reason: The president committed the strategic blunder of not following up his words with actions.
For instance, even after Israel rebuffed Obama’s demand for an immediate halt to settlement expansion on Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for “unprecedented” concessions. To Muslims, it appeared that the new sheriff in town was not that different from the old one, at least not when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To be sure, Muslims resented President George W. Bush, but it was above all his policies they could not fathom. Indeed, more broadly, Muslims’ discontent with Washington has mostly been political in nature. Polls almost uniformly demonstrate that Muslims are disappointed with America’s policies towards the Middle East, and that those policies drive anti-American sentiment. The long list of grievances includes U.S. bias towards Israel, its abiding military presence (in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with massive military bases in the Persian Gulf), as well as its support for autocratic regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region.
El-Shimy offers these policy suggestions to regain momentum:
- Stand firm on the settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and on allowing “the flow of vital goods into the Gaza Strip. This should send the unambiguous message that America is ready and able to lay the groundwork for a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that, in addition to Israel’s security concerns, Palestinian suffering does, in fact, matter.”
- “Second, the formation of a Lebanese national unity government headed by Saad Hariri presents a tremendous opportunity for peace. The arrangement terms should include Israeli withdrawal from the Shib’a Farms and other occupied Lebanese territories, in exchange for the disarmament of Hizbollah.” Presumably this means that the US should support this process. I’m not sure that Hizbollah would agree to disarm, though.
- Engage diplomatically with Syria, which has shown openness to talks.
- Don’t bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, and persuade Israel not to do so either.
- Withdraw from Iraq under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement.
Not sure how possible or how good those suggestions are, but they are a point of view from someone with a different background than your average American commentator.