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Contentions

Disappointment Abounds

Many a liberal pundit swooned over Obama’s Cairo speech. The mere utterance of Obama’s words was already “changing the Middle East,” we were told. The speech was heralded as a great act of truth-telling. He really “got” the Muslim World and was somehow going to inspire and challenge them. He was going to unlock the peace process. But alas, Obama did none of those things. Instead, he wound up disappointing all but the reactionary regimes of the Middle East — the very crowd you’d expect to be rocked by the hope-n-change president.

Jackson Diehl makes the case that Obama’s counterproductive effort to jump-start the Middle East peace process (“Arabs who were led by Obama’s rhetoric to believe that the United States would force Israel to make unprecedented unilateral concessions — like a complete end to all construction in Jerusalem — were bitterly disappointed”) was not his only failure. It seems that Middle East reformers and pro-democracy activists soon learned that human rights and democracy didn’t rate very high with the Obami. Hillary Clinton let on that, yes, democracy promotion was all well and good, but “‘they have a lot of other things on their plate.’ For Arab liberals, the translation is easy, if painful: Regardless of what the president may have said in Cairo, Obama’s vision for the Middle East doesn’t include ‘a new beginning’ in the old political order.”

Arab liberals aren’t alone. “No new beginning” is really the message of the day in China, Iran, and Russia, too. Human rights have been downgraded. The message is clear that thuggish regimes need not clean up their acts to enjoy robust relations with the U.S. In fact, we won’t even embarrass them or challenge them when our president arrives. They can breathe easier as they proceed to imprison, censor, and brutalize their own people.

It’s not exactly what starry-eyed Obama fans around the globe expected. They thought they were getting someone in Obama who’d motivate young people, cajole old regimes into reforming themselves, and tout the blessings of freedom. They thought all that hope-n-change stuff might apply to them. Instead they have a cynical crowd in the White House who imagines that its role is to be as inoffensive as possible with despotic regimes and avoid confrontation. “Getting along” is now the watchword. “Hope and change” are out.

Not unexpectedly, the Obami have nothing to show for their efforts.  The Middle East peace process is stalled. The Iranian mullahs are firmly in power and flexing their muscles, looking forward to joining the club of nuclear powers. The Chinese flaunt their disregard for human rights. At this rate, we’ll have a more dangerous and a less free world. The Arab reformers are right to be disappointed — and they have plenty of company.



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