COMMENTARY | When Barack Obama first ran for president what seems to be a thousand years ago, one of his promises was to repair the image of the United States in the Arab world that he believed that had been damaged by the Bush administration.
The result of 2 1/2 years of Obama engagement with the Middle East, which has included flowery speeches filled with praise for Islam and even the suborning of NASA as an instrument for Muslim self esteem has not gone as expected. According to Boston.com, America is more unpopular in the Middle East than during the last year of the Bush administration. Indeed, Barack Obama's personal popularity has plunged.
James Zogby, who conducted the poll, suggests that the continuing war on terror plus a failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed to the drop in popularity. Obama has made great speeches, particularly in Cairo, about a new tone in Middle Eastern relations. But, as with much else, the president is finding that words are not enough.
A close examination of American policy in the Middle East and its motivations suggests that it may be impossible for the United States to become significantly popular in that part of the world without becoming something it is not. American will not abandon Israel nor will it let up on the war on terror.
The persistence in Muslim disdain for the United States is somewhat aggravating. America has spent a considerable amount of blood and treasure saving Muslim lives and liberating Muslim countries from tyranny, ever since the first Gulf War free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. The low poll numbers Zogby has found smacks of ingratitude on an epic scale.
Bernard Lewis, a long time Middle East expert, suggests in his book "What Went Wrong," that the unpopularity of America in the Muslim world stems from an inferiority complex brought on by a decline in Arab civilization over the past thousand years and the accompanying rise of the West. If Allah is on the side of Muslims, why does he permit this? America is strong and the Dar-es-Islam is weak. How can this be?
The angst resulting from this state of affairs is one of the roots of Islamic fascism. Perhaps Allah is punishing Muslims for being insufficiently pious by allowing the West to ride rough shod over them. From thus stems the drive to lash out and to follow severe religious practices that not even the Prophet himself contemplated.