What drives such nonsense? I call it nonsense, since U.S. popularity is no higher in the Middle East than it was under George Bush. Violence is greater. Christian cleansing is far more prevalent. Iran is closer to the bomb. Bashar Assad never before had so embarrassed a U.S. president. Israel is never more isolated. The Arab Spring is a disaster. Coups, revolutions, mass killings, chaos, and upheaval are the veneer of greater poverty and misery on the Arab Street. There is no such thing anymore as Middle East tourism. U.S. prestige is at an all-time low. The idea that Assad might surrender his WMD in the manner that a terrified Gaddafi did is absurd. Putin, not an American president, exercises the most influence in the Middle East.
a) Obama and his subordinates see most of the tension between the Middle East and United State not as existential, but of recent origin and attributable mostly to one-dimensional American leadership that under Bush heretofore had lacked his own sophistication on matters Islamic. To paraphrase the al Arabiya interview, Obama’s own name, his racial heritage, his father’s Muslim lineage, and his own prior residence in Muslim Indonesia would all ensure that he could communicate and coax Muslims on our collective behalf, at least in a way that evangelical Christians like George W. Bush could hardly imagine.
In other words, most of the past violence was preventable had we listened to the advice listed above, and adjusted our ideas about jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, and terrorism — or used NASA for its proper larger purpose. I suppose the Iranians believe likewise in the power of an iconic president, and so they are now trying to send us a smiling imam, who is said to know the West and speak English, and writes us a letter with every T-ball platitude imaginable. Presto, we will change our opinion of the Iranians because of Rouhani in the way they must like us because of Barack Hussein Obama?
b) Obama also looks to particular pretexts for Muslim outrage and in that sense considers them somewhat legitimate. “Terrorism” can be a hurtful word, and to such an extent that it might force otherwise moderate Muslims to resort to it. Would-be terrorists might listen to the Cairo speech or the NASA director and suddenly drop their violent tendencies, snap out of their jihadist personal journeys, and appreciate commonalities with the West and Christians heretofore forgotten or unknown. Just as Barack Obama once wowed his Harvard Law dean, so too imams and ayatollahs will react to his mellifluous outreach, in the way we too are charmed by the smoother, smiling president Rouhani.
Self-reflection to the point of self-condemnation is a common trait among American liberal leadership. If the Israelis would just vacate Sinai, peace might follow. If they withdrew from Lebanon, moderates might respond. If they gave back Gaza, a settlement would be ensured. If we could just solve the “Palestinian question,” then Arabs would like us, and violence from Cairo to Damascus would subside. Few Americans grasp that there will be no peace with Israel unless either Israel is destroyed or its Arab neighbors accept consensual government and simply no longer tolerate tribalism, religious fundamentalism, gender apartheid, or anti-Semitism — a hope that may well be a century away.