The Obama al-Arabiya interview

posted at 10:06 am on January 27, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Barack Obama decided to give al-Arabiya the honor of getting his first one-on-one interview as President of the United States, and while that might have been a good strategic decision, Obama’s performance didn’t cash in on it.  Instead of offering both openness and a tough assessment of the problems the Arabs have to solve for themselves, Obama seemed more interested in feelings than national security.  And in at least one instance, Obama accepted a strange paradigm from his interviewer that underscored his naiveté:

Q: I want to ask you about the broader Muslim world, but let me – one final thing about the Palestinian-Israeli theater. There are many Palestinians and Israelis who are very frustrated now with the current conditions and they are losing hope, they are disillusioned, and they believe that time is running out on the two-state solution because – mainly because of the settlement activities in Palestinian-occupied territories.

Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state — and you know the contours of it — within the first Obama administration?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state — I’m not going to put a time frame on it — that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life.

And, look, I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.

But it is not going to be easy, and that’s why we’ve got George Mitchell going there. This is somebody with extraordinary patience as well as extraordinary skill, and that’s what’s going to be necessary.

I included the entire question and answer to give the entire context of this exchange, in which Obama faltered badly.  The main driver of Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t settlements, and hasn’t been for some time.  It’s the rocket launches coming from Hamas in Gaza, and to a lesser extent from Islamic Jihad there as well.  How can we know this?  Israel hasn’t had to conduct a military exercise in the West Bank for years, where the settlements are located.  On the other hand, they’ve had to conduct several military operations in Gaza in the few years since Ariel Sharon dismantled the settlements there.

Obama should have reminded his interviewer of those facts.  That’s a big failure, and a missed opportunity to get the record straight in the Arab world.  And there’s more, as Scott Johnson points out:

Q: President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, “war on terror,” and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people — Islamic fascism. You’ve always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of –

THE PRESIDENT: I think that you’re making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations — whether Muslim or any other faith in the past — that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.

And so you will I think see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda — that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it — and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down.

But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.

Again, the naiveté comes through clearly in this exchange.  The terrorist organizations themselves have a wide base of support among Muslims in the Arab world, as well as with the Iranian government, if we include Hamas and Hezbollah.  Obama makes al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah sound like the Baader-Meinhofs or the tax-resister militias here in the US.  They’re not.  They’re well-funded and strongly supported, at least until that support starts costing people more than they’d like.  Terrorism doesn’t begin and end with AQ at all, and if Obama doesn’t understand that, then he’s extremely ill-prepared for his task in the next four years of stopping terrorists, a task at which Bush succeeded after 9/11.

Unlike some others, I didn’t mind Obama’s decision to grant al-Arabiya this honor.  Obama has a great deal of popularity in the Muslim world, and that can be a great asset to the US if used properly.  Obama could have taken the opportunity to explain some hard truths while extending the hand of friendship.  Instead, he took the opportunity to pander.


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I still don’t know where you get naive from, especially in light of the fact that after 8 years of the Bush administration’s lack of diplomacy, we’re further away from peace than we’ve been in a long time.

Tom_Shipley on January 27, 2009 at 12:31 PM

What lack of diplomacy? Lots of meetings, lots of trips, lots of phone calls….

Signing something like the Oslo Accords does not mean everything will suddenly be fine. They were a step in a LONG process. Our lack of diplomatic efforts and Hamas’ victory in 2006, were big obstacles for the path set forth by the Oslo Accords.

So there might be something other than “lack of diplomacy”, like, say, the Palestinians electing an extremist government which has been launching missiles and digging tunnels across the border into Isreal to kidnap people?

As I remember, and the facts bear me out, Bush was engaged with Abbas. Sometimes we gave bad advice, but we were certainly engaged:

The Bush administration has spent nearly $500 million in the past year to bolster the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah party, which was nonetheless crushed by Hamas at the polls. Against the advice of Israeli officials, the administration had pushed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold the elections without delay, believing that the voting would strengthen his hand in disarming militia groups. Instead, the plan backfired, and an organization that has claimed credit for dozens of suicide bombings — some resulting in the deaths of Americans — is poised to take power.

So that sinks the idea that there was a “lack of diplomacy”, as you put it, and instead paints the issue as (even from the Washington Post’s perspective) a problem with terrorists taking over the Government of Palestine.

unclesmrgol on January 27, 2009 at 12:53 PM

I had leftist friends of mine sending me videos of Hamas training kids. Unfortunately, they were still being leftists, trying to appeal to the UN to declare Hamas child abusers … Oh well.

progressoverpeace on January 27, 2009 at 12:36 PM

That’s funny. Maybe if we accuse the Iranians of violating the 35 hr work week, or OSHA regs, denying promotion of women and minorities, etc, we could get worldwide condemnation of their nuclear program.

Just what is the carbon footprint of a super duper secret underground urnanium enrichment program?

JiangxiDad on January 27, 2009 at 12:54 PM

JiangxiDad on January 27, 2009 at 12:54 PM

LOL. But don’t give them any ideas, even in jest. They’re very gullible.

progressoverpeace on January 27, 2009 at 12:56 PM

I watched a little and as soon as i heard obama
Talking to the muslim nations about how he wants to make the us Kindler and Gentler..

I thought one thing..

Osama bin laden and every islamic nazi out there was thinking

Now now start moving in..

Obama is an idiot..

jcila on January 27, 2009 at 1:03 PM

Ha Ha Ha JangixDad — very good!

I was hearing it and saying it for months:

The One hates this country and especially rich white folks. This presidency is the funniest thing since Rome fell! We elected an unknown guy our leader. I think they did that several times. Lead in the pipes, you know!

IlikedAUH2O on January 27, 2009 at 1:08 PM

If O brings about a peace treaty between the arabs and Israelis, we have 7 more years of the hardest times this earth has ever seen! The treaty will be broken in 3-1/2 years and Israel will be in real trouble then for the next 3-1/2. But the REAL Messiah will show up at this time, the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem will split in two and the enemy will be defeated by the King of Kings!
There will be no peace in Israel until this time clock is ready to start. Now it’s true that all these things could be put way off into the future if there is another cycle of Israel’s diaspora, but that seems very unlikely the way the other signs are pointing to this also.

Zechariah 14:1  ¶See, a day of the Lord is coming when they will make division of your goods taken by force before your eyes.
2  For I will get all the nations together to make war against Jerusalem; and the town will be overcome, and the goods taken from the houses, and the women taken by force: and half the town will go away as prisoners, and the rest of the people will not be cut off from the town.
3  Then the Lord will go out and make war against those nations, as he did in the day of the fight.
4  And in that day his feet will be on the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives will be parted in the middle to the east and to the west, forming a very great valley; and half the mountain will be moved to the north and half of it to the south.

Christian Conservative on January 27, 2009 at 1:08 PM

I have been capitalizing President and Presidency less and less. Freudian I guess.

IlikedAUH2O on January 27, 2009 at 1:10 PM

“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” Obama told the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel.

Obama said the U.S. had made mistakes in the past but “that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.

Oh really?…one name for ya Barry,..Sirhan Sirhan
Americans??
How soon can we impeach this fool!

christene on January 27, 2009 at 1:11 PM

For you to call Obama naive is just idiotic rhetoric on your part.

Tom_Shipley on January 27, 2009 at 10:33 AM

I don’t think Obama gives much thought to religion, other than in an Oprah-esque manner, so I don’t know how much he actually knows about Islam. Ed may be right about Obama being naive after having been hoodwinked by his leftist & Hamas pals over the years. The only real solution is for Hamas to declare that it refuses to be an Iranian bookmark and to stop teaching the children of Gaza “what would Muhammad do?” I don’t see much hope of that happening any time soon, do you?

Connie on January 27, 2009 at 1:12 PM

Well, I have been waiting for a response from Tom, but it seems none is forthcoming. I can wait no longer as my alloted computer time is up. Gotta pick up the kid from school and run some errands.

BTW, my daughter was accepted to SDSU!!! WOOHOO!

May you all have a blessed day.

Jvette on January 27, 2009 at 1:14 PM

Dear Leader is not naive. His goal is the destruction of Israel. He is proceeding.

lonesomecharlie on January 27, 2009 at 1:21 PM

he’s extremely ill-prepared for his task in the next four years of stopping terrorists, a task at which Bush succeeded after 9/11.

after being the key word here. good thing he wasn’t prez on 9/11, or he would be held responsible for it. oh, wait….

Noneya on January 27, 2009 at 1:26 PM

Terrorism doesn’t begin and end with AQ at all

AQ has been losing support, and not just in Iraq. how is further marginalizing them such a bad thing? they are already losing the PR war, why put them on better footing?

Noneya on January 27, 2009 at 1:28 PM

Dear Leader is not naive. His goal is the destruction of Israel. He is proceeding.

lonesomecharlie on January 27, 2009 at 1:21 PM

oy vey…

Noneya on January 27, 2009 at 1:29 PM

I don’t think this guy is buying Obambi’s Hope and Change crap. Enjoy Tom, starfleet and all you other morons, this is the face of the enemy, it only knows a socio-political system called Islam.

But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.

dmann on January 27, 2009 at 1:42 PM

after being the key word here. good thing he wasn’t prez on 9/11, or he would be held responsible for it. oh, wait….

too bad that Bush CIA appointee George Tenet was unable to provide the intelligence to help prevent 9/11, oh, wait , that was a Clinton appointee…

runner on January 27, 2009 at 1:51 PM

Ed, I respectfully disagree with your assessment that Obama giving his first presidential interview to JihadTV is not a bad precedent. It is a horrible precedent and will be interpreted as a sign of weakness by the likes Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda.

Remember that it was from the Al-Arabiya studios in Gaza where rockets were used to attack civilian population of southern Israel.

simkeith on January 27, 2009 at 1:53 PM

that was a Clinton appointee…

runner on January 27, 2009 at 1:51 PM

who was forced by law to stay on?

Noneya on January 27, 2009 at 1:56 PM

Jvette on January 27, 2009 at 1:14 PM

Congratulations!WOOT!!!WOOT!!!

christene on January 27, 2009 at 2:02 PM

good thing Clinton took such decisive action after: the first terrorists attack on WTC, Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, USS Cole that it prevented an attack on the US soil, oh wait, he didn’t…

runner on January 27, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Obama is anything but naive when it comes to this issue. He said exactly what he wanted to say. I think he is exactly wrong, and that is even worse than being naive. A naive leader can be sobered up by reality.

rockmom on January 27, 2009 at 2:22 PM

too bad Tenet was dumped as a CIA as soon as possible, oh wait ..that was a good thing

runner on January 27, 2009 at 2:22 PM

rockmom on January 27, 2009 at 2:22 PM

rock on!

dmann on January 27, 2009 at 2:30 PM

Obama is a disater on this issue. First, there is not a dimes worth of difference between Fatah and Hamas: They want the Jews dead and they want all of Israel cleared of Jews. Frankly, the Israeli electorate is responsible for much of the problem because they vote in appeasers like Olmert and Livni, the same way we voted in Obama. When voters here and voters in Israel are ignorant enough or just don’t care enough to want to defeat the Islamists, then we are getting what we deserve. Big War is coming because of this. George Mitchell is a disaster and his program is for the Jews to return to the 1949 Armistice or Auschweicz lines.
Pres Bush started out good, but Condi was just as bad as Obama and George Mitchell, basically they are all acolytes of James “Fuck them they don’t vote for us anyways” Baker III.

The Jews are in trouble and many Jews both here and in Israel bear responsibility for this. Here Jews vote like sheep for the Dems and in Israel they still have a left wing that will not look evil in the eye and make a decision to defeat it. And in the end, no one will help the Jews. They are on their own.

georgealbert on January 27, 2009 at 2:31 PM

BTW, my daughter was accepted to SDSU!!! WOOHOO!

May you all have a blessed day.

Jvette on January 27, 2009 at 1:14 PM

Be careful. SDSU is a party school, thanks to people like Professor Kennedy. My son was arrested there (as a freshman in the dorms) for the same offenses as the kids in this article. You need to make contractual arrangements with your daughter to provide you transcripts, etc., because the school treasures her privacy over your right to know where your money is going. SDSU was completely quiet to us, even though my son had several recorded incidents with the dorm advisors and the university police before he was finally arrested.

unclesmrgol on January 27, 2009 at 2:33 PM

opportunity…to pander

Bottom line, he told the world what it wanted to hear – all is the U.S.’ fault and he’ll see to it that it changes, for the time being.

Nothing will change on the Middle East Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and he made no promises that anything would. He can talk about “the children” as good as Bill Clinton, or anyone could. The rest was “yada, yada, yada” lip service.

The shelling will not stop and Netanyahu will take of the pushback, now and then. None of the parties want piece, and Obama knows this, or will find it out, the way Clinton, the before and after him…did…and will continue to.

p.s. Nonya, your president is calling for your energies – applied to a service to the country he leads now.

Entelechy on January 27, 2009 at 2:49 PM

AQ has been losing support, and not just in Iraq. how is further marginalizing them such a bad thing? they are already losing the PR war, why put them on better footing?

Noneya on January 27, 2009 at 1:28 PM

You are right, President Bush did a masterful job of dismantaling AQ…

right2bright on January 27, 2009 at 4:15 PM

30 years ago? Yup our relations with Iran were Really good 30 years ago.

petertheslow on January 27, 2009 at 5:34 PM

But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.

The broader Muslim world will see this as a weakness …

Badbrucskie on January 27, 2009 at 5:50 PM

Remember when Jimmy Carter was shocked that Leonid Brezhnev would have lied to him about the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan on Christmas week in 1979? You get the feeling Obama’s going to have a similar shock and disappointment coming 2-3 years from now.

We just have to hope it doesn’t involve nuclear weapons.

jon1979 on January 27, 2009

I have this little knot in the pit of my stomach, bad feeling, really, that Obama has plans to get rid of our nuclear weapons, just to show the world we’re not a threat. then, you know, once we disarm little rainbows will fill the sky and unicorns will dance in the fields.

What a strange thought,,, to think the last thing we may all see after we disarm and before we all parish in giant mushroom clouds from our peace loving enemies will be dancing little unicorns under rainbow skies.

JellyToast on January 27, 2009 at 6:09 PM

You are right, President Bush did a masterful job of dismantaling AQ…

right2bright on January 27, 2009 at 4:15 PM

I have no problem giving Shrub credit for the dismantling of AQ, just I have no problem giving him the blame for their apocalyptic attack on 9/11/01 and for Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora….

Noneya on January 27, 2009 at 6:54 PM

Start saving canned food and digging a fallout shelter. Barry just rolled over and played dead. What a naive apologist; he’s in way over his skis.

redfoxbluestate on January 27, 2009 at 7:11 PM

somebody wake me from this freakin nightmare. this guy is a joke! go ahead and make excuses for our country, you turd! this is unbelievable. he really believes that these murderers won’t want to spill our blood in our own streets if he licks their b…s a little more. un-freakin believable.

sandlin71 on January 27, 2009 at 7:36 PM

I’m trying to pull the video I just saw on CNN International…

The Arab woman in charge of setting up the interview said she asked the Obama people where the American flag to put behind Obama was. She was told Obama wanted the interview to be “casual” so they were’t using an American flag.

No flag behind the U.S. head of state.

So, essentially, the U.S. president is ashamed to represent the U.S. abroad. OMG. This is bad.

Amy Proctor on January 27, 2009 at 8:46 PM

Time to start impeachment hearings on Obama.

Cr4sh Dummy on January 27, 2009 at 8:50 PM

Barry, Muslims consider your either A) an “infidel dog” to be conquered, subjugated or killed, or B) a Muslim apostate, to be killed.

Wake the frick up you delusional doofus.

profitsbeard on January 27, 2009 at 8:50 PM

Just imagine if he’d have said ahead of the election “My first TV interview, when I’m the president, will be with al-Arabiya”…

Entelechy on January 27, 2009 at 9:42 PM

I have been capitalizing President and Presidency less and less. Freudian I guess.

IlikedAUH2O on January 27, 2009 at 1:10 PM

Don’t worry. That’s just an acknowledgement of the fact that we don’t really have a President anymore. BHO is our Precedent – as that was what he was hired to be and describes his only qualifications. You’ll get used to it.

Besides, the Precedent is almost the same as a President, except for his mind-numbing stupidity (interestingly combined with an unfounded arrogance that stuns most rational people) and hate of all things American.

progressoverpeace on January 27, 2009 at 10:12 PM

I guess Obama The Muslim didn’t understand the Arabic Quran any better than most “moderate” Muslims.

Any chance he’ll wake up to realize Islam is by nature political and violent, as modeled by their “prophet?”

desertdweller on January 27, 2009 at 10:42 PM

I’m sure this is all part of Obama’s strategy of “re-booting” America’s image in the Muslim world.

Why the hell do we have to re-boot our image? In a totally sane world the Muslim world would be desperately trying to re-boot it’s image to America. I want to see leaders of Muslim nations come to America and apologize for having the most oppressive, intolerant culture in the world. They should apologize for treating women like dogs. They should apologize for dancing in the streets every time a terrorist attack kills westerners. How about apologizing for all of the so-called Islamic charity organizations that are nothing more than front groups to funnel money to Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups? Maybe apologize for being in a state of perpetual outrage where every perceived slight to Islam is cause for rioting and calls for the killing of the offenders. Apologize for training little kids that the best thing they could do is to grow up to blow themselves to pieces as long as they take a few Jews with them. Yeah, Muslim world, how about you ask for our forgiveness for once for your violent, oppressive, ass-backwards culture and all of the problems it’s caused in the world.

But no, Obama figures that whatever ails the Muslim world is probably a result of American actions toward them and, therefore, we must apologize and improve our image to them. We must “listen” instead of “dictate”. This absolutely makes me sick.

JohnInCA on January 27, 2009 at 11:08 PM

Excellent analysis Captain. Obama sounded like he’s still campaigning (against Bush). I don’t think he will ever understand the responsibilities of the office.

Basilsbest on January 27, 2009 at 11:14 PM

I have no problem giving Shrub credit for the dismantling of AQ, just I have no problem giving him the blame for their apocalyptic attack on 9/11/01 and for Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora….

Noneya on January 27, 2009 at 6:54 PM

Yea,Bush had been in office just a few months before 9/11,blaming him for an attack that took over 2 years to plan and helped along by idiotic policies like the Gorelic wall and cutting intelligence/defense when al-qaeda had declared war on us was all Bush’s fault.

Hope you apply that same logic to Obama,now that Iran is getting the bomb on his watch and Pakistan,Mexico are on the verge of collapse.

for Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora….

yea,the US having tens of thousands of troops risking their lives in the hunt for Osama really compares to the over 8 times that super smart Clinton let Osama walk,even turning down having him handed to us on a silver platter by the Sudan.
Slamming Osama getting away in Tora Bora is insulting to the many troops who risked and lost their lives doing everything they could to bring down Osama in un-mapped territory.
John Kerry is on record as agreeing with the Tora Bora strategy before he was against,like most typical liberal leadership.

Baxter Greene on January 27, 2009 at 11:36 PM

“Too often the United States starts by dictating,” he shamefacedly told the Muslim world, while the self-loathing Americans at MSNBC howled with glee.”

At the risk of offending non-Jews/Christians, and the risk of being banned from HA, I’m going to recommend you read “Speaking in Code” at dailynews@omegaletter.com

oldleprechaun on January 28, 2009 at 12:55 PM

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