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U.S. Public Diplomacy Sputtering in Muslim World

Feb 15, 2010

by

DOHA, QATAR --- In the beginning, there was The Speech.

After that, there was the letdown.

The Speech was Barack Obama’s address at Cairo University in June 2009 that seemed to promise a new era in relations between the United States and the Muslim world. People in the Arab states and other Islamic nations took heart from the words of an American president who seemed to truly understand Islam and appreciate the aspirations of Muslims. Those Americans involved in the practice of public diplomacy became hopeful that they could do their jobs free from the suspicion and ridicule that they had endured during the Bush years.

But at the U.S. Islamic World Forum here in Doha (organized by the Brookings Institution and the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs), it has been clear that the Obama magic has lost its pizzazz. The rhetoric about the United States might not be as angry as it was during George W. Bush’s presidency, but there is ample bitterness derived from hope turned sour. Among the comments from forum participants were these: “America is biased against the Arabs”; “If America were fighting oppression, there would be no dispute”; “It is foggy vision through which the United States looks at the Arab world.”

At the heart of this are two issues. First, of course, is Palestine-Israel. Arabs simply do not believe that the United States is doing all it can to push Israel toward an acceptable deal that would establish a Palestinian state and settle related problems. During her appearance at the forum, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented Israel’s refusal to respond to U.S. calls for stepped-up relief efforts for Palestinians in Gaza. To a Western audience, she may have sounded convincing. The Arabs here were not buying it.

The second issue is Iran. U.S. complaints about Iran’s nuclear program meet resistance here. People in this region need to live with Iran, which looms just across the Persian Gulf from these states. So when Secretary Clinton called on Gulf leaders to pressure Iran, Qatar’s prime minister said America should talk directly to the Iranians, stating that “holding a dialogue with Iran through messengers is not advisable.”

This forum was premised on good will, but considerable tension surfaced throughout the three days of meetings. That tension – not the exuberance immediately after The Speech – shapes the context in which American public diplomacy in the Muslim world must now proceed.

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5 COMMENT(S)

Ok, but President Obama got

Ok, but President Obama got exactly zero help from the Arab countries in trying to move the Israeli-Palestinian process forward. He tried to get Saudi Arabia to make even the slightest overtures to Israel in terms of normalization and that got a firm no. The prevalent attitude that the US must deliver Israel and birth a Palestinian state while the rest of the Arab world plays no part in the midwifery process is rather bunk.
-Boulus al-Yehudi

Unfortunately the Obama

Unfortunately the Obama administration has hit numerous roadblocks, from both sides, regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The Arabs, led by Saudi Arabia, have the Arab Peace Initiative which Obama himself supports, to an extent.That is the basis and starting point of negotiations with the Arabs. The other side has yet to come to the table with any meaningful response, except for repeated refusals.

In addition, the Cairo speech, which sounded good, has also been voided by the inability and lack of authority that Sen. Mitchell has. An Envoy with no power and no backing can do no more than rack up frequent flier miles. Giving him a mission and forgetting about him looks, and is worse, than not doing anything at all.

I'm all in favor of the Saudi

I'm all in favor of the Saudi initiative. But if King Abdullah is serious, he needs to come to Israel do a little public diplomacy to promote his vaunted plan. You can't present peace through Tom Friedman or vague diplomatic flirtations and expect it to somehow move the Israelis. Or at the very least speak directly to the Israeli people to convince them that the plan is legit.

I agree with Paul regarding

I agree with Paul regarding the Saudi Initiative but to build on the PD argument, Israelis will not truly come to the negotiating table again until trust is reestablished. Israelis do not trust their negotiating partner especially stemming from the failure of the Camp David II Accords in 2000. Until trust is built from the various negotiating partners, no real progress can be made.

At least the Saudi plan,

At least the Saudi plan, accepted and ratified by all members of the Arab League is a plan. Their stance is known.

I fail to find any Israeli plan publicly put forth. Both sides play the you first game, but if Israeli's are serious and are the skeptics, maybe they should provide some proof as well.

As for the Camp David Accords, everyone is to blame. Including Barak, Clinton, and Arafat.

As evident, this will go on for a long time, and you first finger pointing will continue.

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