Media Mention of Hussein Ibish in The Jordan Times - July 22, 2011 - 12:00am

These are not the best of times for Americans, especially their leaders in government, President Barack Obama and Congress, in view of the bad state of the economy (i.e., the federal debt) and foreign policy, particularly towards the Arab world.

Many here and there are pointing a finger at the president, or as one headline pointed out, “the too-quiet president”. An unidentified Republican, who expects Obama to win a second term in office next year, asked much-respected Washington Post columnist David Ignatius: “Why does he so often seem to react rather than lead?”

Ignatius, reflecting the views of many in the country, agreed that “the president needs to start acting like a fighter and a leader, rather than a punching bag”.

This is certainly the situation vis-à-vis the Arab world where Obama failed to live up to the expectations raised by his memorable Cairo speech in June 2009, when he pledged “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims” who number 1.5 billion worldwide. Obama added to the cheering Arab audience: “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.”

His reaction so far has been mute in the face of the pace-setting Arab Spring, where Arab youth were able to shake more than half-a-dozen Arab states and overthrow two Arab regimes, in Egypt and Tunisia. Several others, particularly Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, have so far suffered hundreds of casualties but do not show any sign of serious change. In fact, the threat of sectarian wars now looms disturbingly over the region.

There was a short-lived excitement when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing next to Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke in Istanbul last Saturday, calling on Syria to allow opposition groups to come together as part of a process of necessary political reform. She then dropped a bombshell when, speaking of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, she declared unexpectedly: “From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy.”

This unscripted response to a reporter’s question, according to The Washington Post, “was instantly hailed as a shift for the Obama administration which ... has been relatively restrained in its public criticism of Assad”.

But in a television interview, Obama said later, somewhat mildly: “Increasingly you’re seeing President Assad lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people.”

The Post report explained: “The State Department’s activist approach highlighted divisions within the administration over the proper US response to the crackdown.” It further quoting unnamed State Department advisers saying that there is no support, internationally, for a Libya-style military intervention in Syria.

On the other hand, the Obama administration has been shockingly quiet about whatever Israel does at home and across its “borders” with Arab neighbours. For example, a new Israeli law bans any public call for a boycott - economic, cultural or academic - against Israel or its West Bank settlements, making such action a punishable offence. This law, which has been protested within Israel after approval by the Knesset, is intended to stem the Palestinians’ and their supporters’ drive to organise boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and its colonies, especially their enterprises.

Bradley Burston, senior editor of the Israeli daily Haaretz, wrote recently: “There is nearly nothing which more effectively delegitimises Israel - and makes Israel look more like an uncaring blockhead state - than does the siege of Gaza. The siege is one thing that does the work of delegitimisation even better: attacking civilians in order to protect the siege.”

Hussein Ibish, senior research fellow at the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine added in a recent column: “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Israeli society is deliberately choosing a future of formalised, permanent apartheid and conflict over peace, which the rest of the world will not accept. Israelis have none but themselves to blame for the consequences.”

Seemingly detached from the turmoil in the Middle East, or the chaos in Israel, the Obama administration has a cost to pay, despite the president’s earning a Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office. An opinion poll conducted by the US-based IBOPE Zogby International for the Arab American Institute Foundation, has dealt Obama a virtual knockout, as it turned out that most Arab countries viewed US policy less favourably today than they did during the last year of the Bush administration.

Even the policies of Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were rated unbelievably more positively than those of Obama’s in every country polled, except Saudi Arabia, where 30 per cent of respondents had a favourable view of the US, compared to only about 5 per cent of Egyptians (the figure was 30 per cent in 2009 in Egypt). The other four states that were the polled - the sample totalled some 4,000 - were Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

There is no doubt that to reverse this trend, Obama has to do some serious house cleaning before he expects to serve a second term.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017