A new Zogby poll, “Arab Attitudes, 2011,” has revealed that President Obama’s charm offensive in the Arab world has failed. After he promised to restore America’s international reputation, not only does the Arab world hate America more under Mr. Obama than it did under President George W. Bush, it even hates Mr. Obama - personally - more than it detested the swaggering unilateralist cowboy from Texas.
This news likely comes as a shock to Mr. Obama and his advisers, who thought that traveling the Arab world on a so-called “apology tour” and bowing down and bad-mouthing American power would make the Arab world love America more - or at least make the Arabs love Mr. Obama more than Mr. Bush.
But the numbers are in. Across the Arab world, Mr. Obama’s favorability ratings are 10 percent or lower. That means the Arabs hate him more while he bows down to them than they hated Mr. Bush while he was bombing them.
Why is that?
Because the Arab world has a fundamentally different view of power.
There is an Arab proverb that says: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” This “strong horse” view of power is dominant in the Islamist world.
When Mr. Obama shows weakness and bows down and apologizes for American power, the Arab world sees him - and us - as a “weak horse.” That doesn’t make the Arabs love us more. It makes them hate us more because weakness is an affront to their strong-horse view of power.
But there is another consequence to Mr. Obama’s weak-horse diplomacy.
Another Arab proverb says, “A falling camel attracts many knives.” Weakness makes the Arabs want to stab the falling camel. That means that bowing down and apologizing for America’s power does not make the Arabs love us more - it makes them want to kill us more. In their eyes, weakness is a signal, a justification - even a provocation - for violent attack.
How do we know this? They tell us and show us with their words and actions.
When al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole in October 2000 without any American reprisal, the terrorists could smell a weak horse. Their perception of American weakness, in their own words, inspired the architects of Sept. 11 to “end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America” by moving forward with murderous plans. The rest is history.
What effect is Mr. Obama’s weak-horse diplomacy having in the Middle East? Let’s consider what has changed in the Middle East in the two short years since the apologist in chief assumed office.
In the Palestinian territories, where the people have rarely found a more vocal champion than in the Obama White House, 82 percent of Palestinians have an unfavorable view of the United States and they have felt emboldened to form an official coalition with the strong-horse internationally recognized terrorist group Hamas.
In Egypt, America’s approval ratings have dropped since Mr. Obama’s now-famous Cairo speech from 30 percent to 5 percent, and the Egyptian people are embracing the strong-horse Muslim Brotherhood as their next leader.
Mr. Obama is the president who lost Turkey. In the short time that has passed since he bad-mouthed American history and power in his speech to the Turkish parliament, Turkey’s approval rating for America has dropped to 14 percent. The once-secular Turkish nation has become more radicalized and Islamist, and Turkey has gone from being the vacation destination for Israeli tourists to one of Israel’s biggest threats.
Since Mr. Obama showed the Arab world that he is a weak horse, Lebanon has been swallowed by Hezbollah, Yemen is in chaos and is being taken over by al Qaeda, Pakistan gave refuge to Osama bin Laden and then rounded up those who ratted him out. In Libya, where Mr. Obama waited five months to say Moammar Gadhafi must go, the once-strong horse of America has shown the entire Arab world that it cannot dislodge one madman whom the whole world wants removed.
Just this week, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an unveiled threat to Israel and the broader world, “We have a saying in our language: ‘If someone throws a smaller stone, you should respond with a bigger stone.’ We will defend ourselves within our capabilities.” That stands in stark contrast to Mr. Obama, who just last year announced to the world that America would not respond with its biggest stone - nuclear weapons - if it is attacked with a smaller stone.
The Arab world never loved us, but at least it respected and feared American power. Today, under Mr. Obama, the numbers show that a weak-horse America is less respected by the Arab world than a strong-horse America. Events in the Middle East show that the Arab world no longer respects or fears American power.
Michael Prell is a former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and author of the book “Underdogma: How America’s Enemies Use Our Love for the Underdog to Trash American Power” (BenBella Books, 2011).