EDITORIAL: Obama’s Islamic poll dance

Middle East appeasement policy has failed

President Obama took office with a mission to transform America’s image around the world. In particular, he was determined to extend the hand of friendship to Muslims whom he felt had been slighted during the George W. Bush administration. Some of his efforts were substantive, such as his attempt to close down the terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay. Others were symbolic, such as removing all references to Islamic extremism from U.S. national security strategies and refusing to use the word “terrorism” when referring to jihadist attacks on the homeland.

Despite his best efforts, Mr. Obama has failed to woo the Muslim world. After an initial burst of enthusiasm in 2009, America’s favorability ratings sagged. A Gallup poll on opinions of the leadership of the United States released last week shows declines in each of six Muslim-majority countries surveyed. Approval in Lebanon is 25 percent, a 5-percent drop back to 2008 levels. Approval in Egypt fell by about half since last fall, from 37 percent to 19 percent. Approval in the Palestinian Territories is 16 percent, a drop of 4 percent and just three points better than it was under the Bush administration. In Iraq, approval is at 25 percent, compared to the 35 percent rating in 2008.

Polls in Israel show confidence in Mr. Obama’s policies in single digits, and American Jews are deserting him at a rate seldom seen for a Democratic president. A McLaughlin & Associates poll released last month showed that Mr. Obama’s support among Jews plunged from 78 percent in the 2008 election to around 40 percent and that a plurality of 46 percent would consider voting for another candidate in 2012. Two weeks ago at an emergency White House meeting with Jewish-American religious leaders, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel admitted that the White House had “screwed up the messaging” about its support for Israel. He said Mr. Obama was a friend of the Jewish state and urged the assembled to “watch what the administration does.”

This week, the United States broke 40 years of precedent to back a United Nations resolution calling for a nuclear-free Middle East that singles out Israel as a problem without even mentioning Iran. It is one of the worst diplomatic blows the United States has ever dealt to Israel, and it will be hard to explain away as simply more incompetent messaging.

The president’s weak response to the crisis over the boarding of the Mavi Marmara is symptomatic of the leadership vacuum Mr. Obama has created. He issued no strong message of support for Israel, no criticism of NATO ally Turkey for its threatening language and bellicose attitude, no condemnation of the attempt to run supplies to Hamas through the Gaza blockade, and no suggestion that the United States would take any action to prevent future such flotillas from fomenting other crises, which the Free Gaza Movement has pledged to do. Mr. Obama seems to be watching the crisis unfold as helplessly as he watches oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

Niccolo Machiavelli counseled that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved because love is fickle and can change but fear will endure. Mr. Obama wanted the world to love him, and the world did, seemingly, for awhile. But love is turning to disappointment and contempt as the world realizes that Mr. Obama is just a charming empty suit. As he grows weaker, America’s adversaries are realizing that there is no need to fear him, either.

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