My National Post column reflects on President Obama's failure to deliver his promised new era of peace with the Islamic world.
All the way back in 2009, the newly inaugurated president Obama granted his very first TV interview to the al-Arabiya network.
Speaking to veteran journalist Hisham Melhem, the new president said: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.” As anti-American riots burn from Benghazi to Islamabad, that hope looks distinctly “Mission Unaccomplished.”
In the immediate aftermath of the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the Obama administration insisted that the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi were spontaneous responses to a YouTube video clip mocking the Prophet Muhammad. That claim, never very plausible, has by now nearly completely unraveled. (See Eli Lake’s report Friday in the Daily Beast for the latest debunking.)
The attacks look elaborately planned and timed for the 9/11 anniversary. The raising of the black al-Qaeda flag over the walls of the Cairo embassy was a challenge and a defiance — and a brutal repudiation of the hopes expressed in Obama’s own speech in Cairo, delivered three summers ago:
I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”
That new beginning has not arrived. President Obama can claim important national security successes: the killing of Osama bin Laden and much of what remained of the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. But the level of anti-American grievance Obama observed and deplored in 2008-2009 has not abated. If anything, the situation in important Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan and Egypt seems even more dangerous today than when Barack Obama took office. This is not to blame Obama for making things worse. It is to recall to mind the unrealism of his promise to make things better.
That promise was based on a series of assumptions that have one by one been falsified: That the Palestinian issue was the driving cause of Muslim anti-Americanism — and that he could resolve Palestinian grievances by pressing Israel to make concessions; that the anger was somehow caused by President Bush and that it could be alleviated by reversing Bush policies; and — finally — that his own personality and name could somehow reassure Muslims in and of itself.