Foaud Ajami reports that among the Arab Muslim intelligencia and on the Arab street, Barack Obama has come down to earth. Like many in the United States who embraced the myth of our new President, Arabs projected their own perceptions of “hope and change” onto candidate Obama. Today, there is growing disappointment in the man and his limited accomplishments to date. Worse, the anti-American narrative that is common throughout the Muslim world remains as strong as ever.
He [President Obama] has not made the world anew, history did not bend to his will, the Indians and Pakistanis have been told that the matter of Kashmir is theirs to resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the same intractable clash of two irreconcilable nationalisms, and the theocrats in Iran have not "unclenched their fist," nor have they abandoned their nuclear quest.
There is little Mr. Obama can do about this disenchantment. He can't journey to Turkey to tell its Islamist leaders and political class that a decade of anti-American scapegoating is all forgiven and was the product of American policies—he has already done that. He can't journey to Cairo to tell the fabled "Arab street" that the Iraq war was a wasted war of choice, and that America earned the malice that came its way from Arab lands—he has already done that as well. He can't tell Muslims that America is not at war with Islam—he, like his predecessor, has said that time and again.
It was the norm for American liberalism during the Bush years to brandish the Pew Global Attitudes survey that told of America's decline in the eyes of foreign nations. Foreigners were saying what the liberals wanted said.
Now those surveys of 2009 bring findings from the world of Islam that confirm that the animus toward America has not been radically changed by the ascendancy of Mr. Obama. In the Palestinian territories, 15% have a favorable view of the U.S. while 82% have an unfavorable view. The Obama speech in Ankara didn't seem to help in Turkey, where the favorables are 14% and those unreconciled, 69%. In Egypt, a country that's reaped nearly 40 years of American aid, things stayed roughly the same: 27% have a favorable view of the U.S. while 70% do not. In Pakistan, a place of great consequence for American power, our standing has deteriorated: The unfavorables rose from 63% in 2008 to 68% this year.
Of course, those on the Left and the MSM suggest that the hated George W. Bush did so much damage to our international image that it will take years to repair. Then why, after a year of soft power, are the “unfavorables” the same or rising?
The reality is that those in other countries, like citizens in ours, will accept idealistic speeches at first, but ultimately, actions, decisions, and accomplishments are what matter. In Obama's first year on the job, words have flowed, but accomplishments are sparse indeed,
But there’s more to it than that. Anti-Americanism is a staple in the Arab world. Tom Friedman notes this when he writes about an anti-American narrative that is endemic in the Muslim world:
It [the narrative] is working. As a Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: “This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the West, and right now mostly the U.S. and Israel, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are Arab-government owned — mostly from the Gulf.”
This narrative suits Arab governments. It allows them to deflect onto America all of their people’s grievances over why their countries are falling behind. And it suits Al Qaeda, which doesn’t need much organization anymore — just push out The Narrative over the Web and satellite TV, let it heat up humiliated, frustrated or socially alienated Muslim males, and one or two will open fire on their own. See: Major Hasan.
The narrative will not be assuaged with our President’s naïve apologies on the international stage. It will not be overcome because our President is a smart and likeable fellow. In fact, Obama’s words and actions during the past year may strengthen the anti-American narrative, and as a consequence, set the stage for something that neither he, nor the vast majority of the Muslim world, wants.