Most Arabs Know This Speech Will Make Little Difference

I suspect that what the Arab world wants to hear is that Obama will take his soldiers out of Muslim lands

More and more, it looks like the same old melody that Bush's lads
used to sing. We're not against the Muslim world. In fact, we are
positively for it. We want you to have democracy, up to a point. We
love Arab "moderates" and we want to reach out to you and be your
friends. Sorry about Iraq. And sorry - again, up to a point - about
Afghanistan and we do hope that you understand why we've got to have a
little "surge" in Helmand among all those Muslim villages with their
paper-thin walls. And yes, we've made mistakes.

Everyone in
the world, or so it seems, is waiting to see if this is what Barack
Obama sings. I'm not sure, though, that the Arabs are waiting with such
enthusiasm as the rest of the world.

I haven't met an Arab in
Egypt - or an Arab in Lebanon, for that matter - who really thinks that
Obama's "outreach" lecture in Cairo on Thursday is going to make much
difference.

They watched him dictate to Bibi Netanyahu - no
more settlements, two-state solution - and they saw Bibi contemptuously
announce, on the day that Mahmoud Abbas, the most colourless leader in
the Arab world, went to the White House, that Israel's colonial project
in the West Bank would continue unhindered. So that's that, then.

And
please note that Obama has chosen Egypt for his latest address to the
Muslims, a country run by an ageing potentate - Hosni Mubarak is 80 -
who uses his secret police like a private army to imprison human rights
workers, opposition politicians, anyone in fact who challenges the
great man's rule. At this point, we won't mention torture. Be sure that
this little point is unlikely to get much play in the Obama sermon,
just as he surely will not be discussing Saudi Arabia's orgy of
head-chopping when he chats to King Abdullah on Wednesday.

So
what's new, folks? Arabs, I find, have a very shrewd conception of what
goes on in Washington - the lobbying, the power politics, the dressing
up of false friendship in Rooseveltian language - even if ordinary
Americans do not. They are aware that the "new" America of Obama looks
suspiciously like the old one of Bush and his lads and ladies. First,
Obama addresses Muslims on Al-Arabiya television. Then he addresses
Muslims in Istanbul. Now he wants to address Muslims all over again in
Cairo.

I suppose Obama could say: "I promise I will not make
any decision until I first consult with you and the Jewish side" along
with more promises about being a friend of the Arabs. Only that's
exactly what Franklin Roosevelt told King Abdul Aziz on the deck of USS
Quincy in 1945, so the Arabs have heard that one before. I guess
we'll hear about terrorism being as much a danger to Arabs as to Israel
- another dull Bush theme - and, Obama being a new President, we might
also have a "we shall not let you down" theme.

But for what? I
suspect that what the Arab world wants to hear - not their leaders, of
course, all of whom would like to have a spanking new US air base on
their property - is that Obama will take all his soldiers out of Muslim
lands and leave them alone (American aid, doctors, teachers, etc,
excepted). But for obvious reasons, Obama can't say that.

He can,
and will, surely, try his global-Arab line; that every Arab nation will
be involved in the new Middle East peace, a resurrection of the
remarkably sane Saudi offer of full Arab recognition of Israel in
return for an Israeli return to the 1967 borders in accordance with the
UN Security Council Resolution 242. Obama will be clearing this with
King Abdullah on Wednesday, no doubt. And everyone will nod sagely and
the newspapers of the Arab dictatorships will solemnly tip their hats
to the guy and the New York Times will clap vigorously.

And
the Israeli government will treat it all with the same amused contempt
as Netanyahu treated Obama's demand to stop building Jewish colonies on
Arab land and, back home in Washington, Congress will fulminate and
maybe Obama will realise, just like the Arab potentates have realised,
that beautiful rhetoric and paradise-promises never, ever, win against
reality.

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