EDITORIAL: Obama’s Arab sting

Poll shows President Bush had higher approval ratings in the Middle East

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President Obama came into office with the self-appointed mission of healing the breach between the United States and the Islamic world. He likened his goal to the civil rights struggle, explaining that Muslims faced discrimination at home and misunderstanding abroad and that his predecessor had only made matters worse. By adopting a more obsequious tone toward Islam, he reasoned, the misunderstandings could be dealt with and a new era of peace and partnership would result.

A new poll from the nonpartisan Arab American Institute shows the effort in tatters, with Middle Easterners’ opinion of the United States lower than it was at the end of the George W. Bush administration. The survey tracks with other data, such as a May study by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude Project, that show initial enthusiasm for Mr. Obama collapsed after he failed to meet inflated expectations.

American favorability ratings in Egypt are down to 5 percent, lower than they were at the end of the Bush administration, and a scant 3 percent of Egyptians say they agree with Mr. Obama’s policies in the region. Just 39 percent say they think the region is better off since the “Arab Spring” uprisings began, while 45 percent say it is “too early to tell.”

Large numbers of Arabs say the U.S. involvement in the war in Libya either has no impact on or worsens U.S.-Arab relations. The Obama administration went out of its way to get a go-ahead from the Arab League before pursuing the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. Within a week of the American intervention, the Arab League had condemned the bombing campaign, which it said was not what it had signed on for with the no-fly zone. As the poll indicates, Mr. Obama’s attempt to get a free pass to go to war with a regional leader did not make the Arab street any happier with America.

The reasons for the Obama administration’s poor showing in this and other polls are not hard to discern. The problem is not form but substance, the bedrock interests that divide America from the Middle East. Whether it is support for Israel or for the many Western values that America promotes in the region, it will take more than pandering to Islam to cross the divide.

Sometimes the administration simply seems at odds with itself. In late June, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, held a homosexual pride celebration to support oppressed homosexuals in that country. This fits with the administration’s promotion of the homosexual agenda, but in a country like Pakistan, such an event is needlessly provocative. Conservative Muslim religious leaders denounced the event as “cultural terrorism” and “tantamount to stabbing the Muslim world in the chest.” With outreach like that, Mr. Obama’s abysmal poll numbers should come as no surprise.

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