Sunday, January 30, 2011

Obama's Legacy of Hope and Change in the Mid East

By Michael Widlanski
30 January 2011

Too often Western leaders and journalists simply do not know the difference between hamas and humus

President Barack Obama promised that his election meant not only "hope and change" for America but for the world, especially the Middle East. President Obama criticized America's past actions while touting his own Islamic connections—from his Arabic-sounding middle name to his youth in Indonesia.

After two years in office, a look at the record shows Obama has kept his promise about "change," but not necessarily about "hope."

• President Obama's first foreign trip was a journey to Turkey, where he saluted the extremist Islamist regime, and less than a year later, that regime has used the cover of "democracy" to impose its Islamist policies locally. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan leads a viciously anti-Semitic campaign against Israel, using a so-called "human rights flotilla" that was really a terror operation in support of the Hamas terror regime in Gaza.

• In a dramatic speech before thousands at Cairo University, Obama attested that America was one of the largest Islamic countries, expecting his statements would produce "moderation" in the Islamic sphere. Less than a year later, Obama and his top advisors appear clueless and impotent, as Islamic militants seem poised to seize power from the regime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarrak (over issues ranging from corruption to high food prices). Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are urging "restraint" (the favorite theme of the US State Department) the same way Jimmy Carter urged restraint on the Shah of Iran in the face of Ayatollah Khomeini. We know how that ended. The Obama-Clinton public statements actually seem to be a disavowal of Murbarak who is far from perfect exemplar of democracy. Still, Mubarak, for all his faults, is a better friend to the US than Muhammad Baradei, the UN-foisted opportunist who helped cover up proliferation of WMD by despots on his way to winning a Nobel peace prize.

• Obama, Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden pushed a militant anti-Israel negotiating stance, including demands for no Israeli construction in Jerusalem, and surprisingly (for Obama et al), the Palestinian Authority stiffened its own demands and refused to talk to Israel directly—thus reversing 20 years of direct talks.

• Obama "engaged" the Iranian revolutionary regime, and the Iranians responded by speeding up their construction of nuclear weapons, while simultaneously brutally repressing real democratic protests over a pathetically rigged election.

• President Obama violated all tradition to send an ambassador to Syria, using a congressional recess to sneak through the appointment that would never have passed. And this has helped produce change. Under George W. Bush, Syria and its Iranian-funded Hizballah terror militia ally were forced to pull back from Lebanon. Under the engaging and smiling policies of President Barack Obama, Lebanon is falling once again into the hands of Hizballah, Syria and Iran. What will Obama do: recall America's ambassador from Syria or re-engage the killer regime in Iran?

"Islam has always been a part of America's story," Obama declared in his Cairo speech, but less than two years later, it seems that it will be radical Islam that will remain a central part of Obama's personal story and his administration's legacy.

Obama and Clinton are missing the real story in Egypt, which has some similarity to the story of Iran in 1978 and 1979: a pro-American authoritarian regime has invited protest because of personal and economic weakness combined with charges of corruption. The ailing octogenarian Mubarak (who has been in and out of hospitals) resembles the ailing Shah. Neither man would have been my choice as a contestant for American Idol, but the question was and is—who is the alternative? The ayatollahs of Iran have certainly been worse than the Shah in every respect, and they established the worst terror-supporting government in the world (even more than North Korea). Of course, the ayatollahs were not the only ones protesting the Shah, but they knew how to exploit the general unrest—and calls for democracy—in order to come to power. Once in power, they epitomized Professor Bernard Lewis's adroit description of the Islamist desire for democracy: "one man, one vote, one time only."

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and its kindred groups al-gema'at al-Islamiyya and Takfir Wa-Higra as well as Egyptian Islamic Jihad are the kinds of organizations that spawned the groups that attacked the World Trade Center in 1993 and September 11, 2001. We should remember that every time Obama and Hillary Clinton rushed to scold Mubarak for trying to hold on to power, while they were strangely silent when the ayatollahs used far more abusive power against a non-Islamic democratic protest.

Obama-Clinton have also been very reticent about some of the mob behavior in Egypt, such as the looting of museums and stores. Why not urge a little restraint on the mobs, too?

Both the Sunni Islamists of Egypt and the Shiite Islamists of Iran pray on the gullibility of Western diplomats and pundits who usually cannot connect the dots in Arabic or any other Semitic language. In Semitic languages, the dots serve as vowels, and when you cannot read the dots, you cannot connect them or read the situation.

That is why Barack, Hillary and Jimmy see H-M-S and they read humus, and they take a big bite. Afterwards, when they discover they have hamas in their mouths: and they have bitten off more than they can chew.

Too often Western leaders and journalists simply do not know the difference between hamas and humus.

Like Muhammad Baradei and Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama has won a Nobel Peace Prize, but we should be asking ourselves how much is this award-winning performance going to cost us.


Dr. Michael Widlanski, who has studied and worked in several Arab countries, teaches Arab politics and communication at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post, serving as a special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO Archives captured in Jerusalem. He is currently completing a book on Arab-Islamic terror.

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