It will not be enough for the President to repeat the well-considered (and generally well received) generalities of his interview with al-Arabiyya and his speech in Istanbul. These were a good beginning, but what is required now is far more difficult: serious attention to differences people in the Arab and Muslim worlds have with long-standing American policies. This is at the core of the problem. It is not just a matter of mutual respect and an appropriate tone, important though these things are, especially because they were entirely absent from the approach of the Bush Administration. People in this part of the world (indeed people in most parts of the world) have deep disagreements with U.S. policy on Palestine, on Iraq, and on Iran, not to speak of the matter of American support for repressive dictatorships.
There has to be a real, convincing, and visible change in these policies before attitudes to the United States can be expected to improve: solid U.S. support for an end to Israeli occupation and the removal of settlements (not just halting their expansion); a complete end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq; and progress on winding down the American-Iranian cold war that has polarized the entire Middle East. These will be difficult changes. It will be even harder than this to wean American policy-makers from their addiction to dealing with pliable autocrats, military dictators, and absolute monarchs in the Middle East and other parts of the Islamic world. This will be a particularly sensitive issue, since the Obama Administration has chosen to have the President give this speech in a country that has been ruled for 38 years by one man in a style increasingly reminiscent of nothing so much as the pharaohs. This is a much more important issue than some people realize. Although America’s economic model and its cultural and consumer commodities are just as attractive to people in the Islamic world as they are to others elsewhere, the idea that the United States supports the extension of democracy, individual freedoms, and human rights is its strongest asset as a world power. To the extent that the policy of our government betrays these ideals by supporting such regimes, it forfeits a great deal of goodwill, and it stokes resentments that can easily be exploited, especially on top of other hard differences over policy.
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2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan