Remember the expectations for how Barack Obama could transform U.S. relations with the Muslim world once in office?
Andrew Sullivan, writing in The Atlantic, July 2007:
What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it’s central to an effective war strategy. The war on Islamist terror, after all, is two-pronged: a function of both hard power and soft power. We have seen the potential of hard power in removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. We have also seen its inherent weaknesses in Iraq, and its profound limitations in winning a long war against radical Islam. The next president has to create a sophisticated and supple blend of soft and hard power to isolate the enemy, to fight where necessary, but also to create an ideological template that works to the West’s advantage over the long haul. There is simply no other candidate with the potential of Obama to do this. Which is where his face comes in.
Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
And here we are:
• After improving with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, U.S. favorable ratings across the Arab world have plummeted. In most countries they are lower than at the end of the Bush Administration, and lower than Iran’s favorable ratings (except in Saudi Arabia).
• The continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and U.S. interference in the Arab world are held to be the greatest obstacles to peace and stability in the Middle East.
• While many Arabs were hopeful that the election of Barack Obama would improve U.S.-Arab relations, that hope has evaporated. Today, President Obama’s favorable ratings across the Arab world are 10% or less.
• Obama’s performance ratings are lowest on the two issues to which he has devoted the most energy: Palestine and engagement with the Muslim world.
There is little support for Obama, however, in the predominantly Muslim nations surveyed. Fewer than three-in-ten express confidence in him in Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Jordan. And roughly a year after he ordered the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, just 7% of Pakistanis have a positive view of Obama, the same percentage that voiced confidence in President George W. Bush during the final year of his administration.
The divisions, frustration, anger, and recrimination between the United States and much of the Muslim world were not a reaction to George W. Bush or “cowboy” mannerisms or “neocons” or any of the conventional wisdom of the Bush years. The divisions stem from fundamentally different values, ones that no amount of flowery speeches in Cairo can change.