Bush trumps Barack in the Arab world: President Obama is proving an embarrassing flop in the Middle East
Today’s eye-opening IBOPE Zogby International poll for the Arab American Institute Foundation should be a wake-up call to the White House on its failing foreign policy. After two and a half years of bashing Israel, appeasing rogue regimes such as Iran and Syria, and promising a new era of relations with the Muslim world, Washington is now less popular in major Arab countries than it was when George W. Bush was in the White House.
The poll surveys Arab opinion in six countries: Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and reveals that “Arabs see the Obama Administration’s handling of most Middle East policy issues as having made no contribution to improving US-Arab relations. Only on the issue of the “no-fly zone over Libya” do a majority of Saudis and plurality of Lebanese see a positive contribution.”
According to the report’s author, the Democrat adviser James Zogby:
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).
… 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.
The Zogby poll overwhelmingly demonstrates that weakness and a markedly softer approach to the projection of American global power do not make the US president more popular abroad. In fact they simply strengthen the position of America’s enemies, undermine her effectiveness as a global power, and draw contempt and derision from both friend and foe alike.
Of course, world leadership is not a popularity contest, nor should it be. But it should be deeply worrying for the White House when a genocidal tyrant like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now viewed more favorably across many parts of the Middle East than the leader of the free world. George W. Bush may not have been loved in the Arab world, but at least he was feared and respected. The removal of Saddam Hussein and the crushing of the Al Qaeda-led insurgency in Iraq demonstrated that America meant business, and that it would be prepared to wield hard power to defend its interests against the enemies of freedom.
There is little evidence, however, that Barack Obama is viewed with fear or with respect in one of the most volatile regions of the world. If anything he is seen as a weak-kneed pushover, with a confused and flailing foreign policy. This will ultimately haunt America as Iran races towards becoming a nuclear power and traditional US allies in the region lose faith in Washington’s willingness and ability to stand with them. The White House’s mantra of ‘leading from behind’ is looking more and more foolish by the day, and the world’s only superpower has fewer friends on its side as it faces an increasingly dangerous array of adversaries.