Feature

The Mideast: The ‘Obama effect’

Is President Obama's historic Cairo address to the Muslim world already creating change in the Mideast?

Call it the “Obama effect,” said Howard LaFranchi in The Christian Science Monitor. The president’s historic Cairo address to the Muslim world is already creating seismic changes throughout the Mideast. In Lebanon, his invitation for Muslims and America to forge “a new beginning” came just three days before the election, helping a pro-Western coalition pull a major upset, while Hezbollah, the militant group backed by Syria and Iran, went down to defeat. Analysts see a similar, pro-Western shift in Pakistan, which is finally taking the fight to the Taliban, and in Iran, where mass protests, following allegations of a stolen election, have put the autocrats on the defensive. There’s no question that something major is happening, said Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times. George W. Bush deserves credit for introducing democracy into the region, but by demonizing Iran, Syria, and other autocratic Islamic regimes, he actually strengthened their hold on power. But Obama’s skillful exercise of “soft power” has defused many Muslims’ suspicion and anger, and “‘pro-American’ is not such an insult anymore.”

Did Obama’s speech also reverse the laws of gravity? said Alvaro Vargas Llosa in ForeignPolicy.com. Please. Lebanon’s election turned on “high turnout in Christian precincts and disgust with Hezbollah.” Iran’s situation is “reflective of long-simmering reformist sentiment,” marked by frustration with hard-line clerics. “There is no real cause and effect between Obama’s policies and these hopeful signs.” Actually, Obama’s Cairo speech backfired, said Ralph Peters in the New York Post. “Perceived as a confession of weakness and guilt,” his rhetoric emboldened Iran’s thuggish regime to steal the presidential election and crush democracy in its crib. They know that under his leadership—unlike Bush’s—America will do nothing.

Great powers like to believe that everything that happens in the world is a consequence of their actions, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. But demonstrations in Iran “aren’t driven by disputes over relations with the West, much less an ‘Obama factor.’” True, but Barack Hussein Obama is clearly not a typical American president, said Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker. The “markers of respect” for Islam that he sprinkled through his speech have created the perception in the Mideast that major change is possible, though hardly inevitable. What will be the result, years from now? Anyone who claims to know is a fool.

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