Obama: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy”
In a highly significant symbolic move, Obama gives his first interview as President to… Jihad TV Al-Arabiya. “Obama Al-Arabiya Interview: Full Text,” from theÂ Huffington Post, January 26 (with comments from JW):
[…] Q Sir, you just met with your personal envoy to the Middle East, Senator Mitchell. Obviously, his first task is to consolidate the cease-fire. But beyond that you’ve been saying that you want to pursue actively and aggressively peacemaking between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Tell us a little bit about how do you see your personal role, because, you know, if the President of the United States is not involved, nothing happens — as the history of peacemaking shows. Will you be proposing ideas, pitching proposals, parameters, as one of your predecessors did? Or just urging the parties to come up with their own resolutions, as your immediate predecessor did?THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away. And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.
He brokered the peace deal in Northern Ireland. One of the ongoing forms of myopia in Washington is the insistence on seeing the problems in the Middle East as another form of the same malady. The possibility never enters their minds that one group will only use negotiated settlements not as means to achieve a lasting peace but as stepping stones to total victory and annihilation of the other group.
And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictatingÂ — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved.
You can say that again! But will he listen to anyone who will tell him about the global jihad and Islamic supremacism? What do you think?
So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions.Â But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people.Â And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.
Both sides need to realize that? And what exactly is Israel doing that isn’t going to result in prosperity and security for its people? Withdrawing from Gaza? Dismantling settlements? Or maybe not allowing rockets to be lobbed indiscriminately at Israeli civilians?
Also, here again, Obama makes the very common assumption that that the top priority for both sides is security prosperity and security for its people. Has he considered the possibility that the majority of Palestinians would prefer to see Israel destroyed than to secure prosperity and security? Isn’t there an abundance of evidence for that? Off the top of my head, there is the election of Hamas and the destruction of the greenhouses in Gaza that Mort Zuckerman and others paid $14 million to give to them, and their use as arrival points of weapons smuggling tunnels.
And it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to take time. I don’t want to prejudge many of these issues,
It is clear that he already has in many ways.
and I want to make sure that expectations are not raised so that we think that this is going to be resolved in a few months. But if we start the steady progress on these issues, I’m absolutely confident that the United States — working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab states in the region — I’m absolutely certain that we can make significant progress.
Not a good sign: the EU is busy playing the dhimmi in Europe and Russia is aiding the jihadists in Iran.
Q You’ve been saying essentially that we should not look at these issues — like the Palestinian-Israeli track and separation from the border region — you’ve been talking about a kind of holistic approach to the region. Are we expecting a different paradigm in the sense that in the past one of the critiques –– at least from the Arab side, the Muslim side — is that everything the Americans always tested with the Israelis, if it works. Now there is an Arab peace plan, there is a regional aspect to it. And you’ve indicated that. Would there be any shift, a paradigm shift?THE PRESIDENT: Well, here’s what I think is important. Look at the proposal that was put forth by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia —
THE PRESIDENT: I might not agree with every aspect of the proposal, but it took great courage —*Â It took great courage for the Saudis to tell the Jews down the river?
THE PRESIDENT: — to put forward something that is as significant as that. I think that there are ideas across the region of how we might pursue peace.
Courage? How on earth did it take courage to propose a plan that will make the destruction of Israel that much easier?
I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan. These things are interrelated. And what I’ve said, and I think Hillary Clinton has expressed this in her confirmation, is that if we are looking at the region as a whole and communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.
They are indeed interrelated, but not in the way Obama thinks. They are interrelated because of the jihad doctrine. And here he repeats a line from his Inaugural Address about “mutual respect,” again implying that the respect has only been lacking on the American side. The U.S. has been showering money on Pakistan for years, and Pakistan has been taking it and then aiding the jihad terrorists it was supposed to be fighting. Who’s disrespecting whom?
Now, Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel’s security is paramount.Â ButÂ I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace.Â They will be willing to make sacrificesÂ if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.
TheyÂ willÂ be willing to make sacrifices, andÂ will not stopÂ being a U.S. ally, because after all, what choice do they have, even if the U.S. sells them down the river? Note that there is no parallel call for the Palestinians to make sacrifices.
And so what we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there’s a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs.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 isÂ 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.
Israel will thus be bisected or truncated severely. Bush, of course, said the same thing.
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.
The situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved because the great bulk of the aid that the world showers upon them goes to the jihad.
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.Q Absolutely. Let me take a broader look at the whole region. You are planning to address the Muslim world in your first 100 days from a Muslim capital. And everybody is speculating about the capital. (Laughter.) If you have anything further, that would be great.
How concerned are you — because, let me tell you, honestly, when I see certain things about America — in some parts, I don’t want to exaggerate — there is a demonization of America.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q It’s become like a new religion, and like a new religion it has new converts — like a new religion has its own high priests.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q It’s only a religious text.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q And in the last — since 9/11 and because of Iraq, that alienation is wider between the Americans and — and in generations past, the United States was held high. It was the only Western power with no colonial legacy.
The hatred, you see, isÂ all our fault.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.Q How concerned are you and — because people sense that you have a different political discourse. And I think, judging by (inaudible) and Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden and all these, you know — a chorus —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I noticed this. They seem nervous.
Q They seem very nervous, exactly. Now, tell me why they should be more nervous?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they’ve been using against me before I even took office —
Q I know, I know.
THE PRESIDENT: — what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.
Obama seems to be banking everything on the notion that the ideas that bring one the most material prosperity are the ideas that everyone in every case will choose. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. The followers of al-Zawahiri and the rest have other goals, other priorities — ones that no amount of American largesse will make waver.
In my inauguration speech, I spoke about: You will be judged on what you’ve built, not what you’ve destroyed. And what they’ve been doing is destroying things. And over time, I think the Muslim world has recognized that that path is leading no place, except more death and destruction.Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, (?) that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.
Q The largest one.
THE PRESIDENT: The largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I’ve come to understand is that regardless of your faith — and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers –(a pretty f*kced up way of putting things/ed)Â regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.
And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and 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. And that I think is going to be an important task.
Here again, the problem is thatÂ AmericaÂ has taken actions that have led to the loss of the respect in which it was once held. It is all up to us to restore that respect.
But he does assure us that he will not simply be a sock puppet:
But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration’s actions. And I think that what you will see over the next several years is thatÂ I’m not going to agree with everything that some Muslim leader may say, or what’s on a television station in the Arab worldÂ — but I think that what you’ll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity. I want to make sure that I’m speaking to them, as well.Q Tell me, time is running out, any decision on from where you will be visiting the Muslim world?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m not going to break the news right here.
THE PRESIDENT: But maybe next time. But it is something that is going to be important. I want people to recognize, though, that we are going to be making a series of initiatives. Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we’re not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace, we’re going to start now. It may take a long time to do, but we’re going to do it now. We’re going to follow through on our commitment for me to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital. We are going to follow through on many of my commitments to do a more effective job of reaching out, listening, as well as speaking to the Muslim world.
And you’re going to see me following through with dealing with a drawdown of troops in Iraq, so that Iraqis can start taking more responsibility. And finally, I think you’ve already seen a commitment, in terms of closing Guantanamo, and making clear that even as we are decisive in going after terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians, that we’re going to do so on our terms, and we’re going to do so respecting the rule of law that I think makes America great.
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.Â 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. Now comes the old Musulmanic mantra:Â We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.
Of course we can’t. But we can recognize the motives and goals of the enemy, and their sources. Or can we?
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.Â 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.
Q Can I end with a question on Iran and Iraq then quickly?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s up to the team —
MR. GIBBS: You have 30 seconds. (Laughter.)
Q Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.
Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past — none of these things have been helpful.
ButÂ I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us….
Daled Amos:I’m sure there’s a message in here somewhere…
January 22, 2009
President Obama’s first call ‘was to President Abbas’
January 27, 2009
Obama chooses Arab network for first TV interview
January 27, 2009
Mitchell Arrives in Cairo
All 3 seem to be aimed, at least to some degree, towards isolatingÂ Hamas.Â So does the declared goal of Obama’s phone calls:
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said that the talks withMiddle EastÂ leaders underlined a “commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term”. He added: “In the aftermath of theÂ GazaÂ conflict, he emphasised his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating, in partnership with theÂ PalestinianÂ Authority, a major reconstruction effort.”
Besides Mitchell’s stops not directly related to theÂ Israel-Palestinian conflict…
A possible stop in Turkey will try to jumpstart Turkish mediated peace talks with Syria. A visit toÂ Saudi ArabiaÂ isÂ a nod to the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, which Obama said Thursday “contains constructive elements that could help advance these efforts.” Mitchell will also make stops in Europe to make sure allies are all on board.
…there are a handful of odds and ends to take care of:
Spokesman Wood elaborated, “Special Envoy Mitchell will work to consolidate the cease-fire in Gaza, establish an effective and credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime to prevent the rearming of Hamas, facilitate the reopening of border crossings, and develop an effective response to the immediate humanitarian needs of the Palestinians in Gaza and eventual reconstruction, and reinvigorate the peace process.”
That “nod to the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative” is a follow up toÂ a speech that Obama gave last Thursday:
He called on Arab governments to “act on” the promise of a Saudi-led 2002 Arab peace initiative by supporting the Palestinian Authority headed by President MahmoudÂ AbbasÂ “taking steps towards normalising relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all.”When Obama talks about there being an outline of what needs to be done in order to bring peace to the Middle East, he may very well be referring to the Saudi Peace Initiative. One reason Obama may be speaking so cautiously about the plan is because ofÂ the denials that came out last year that this plan was under consideration:
A senior adviser to Barack Obama on Sunday denied reports that the U.S. president-elect plans to throw his weight behind the 2002 Arab peace plan, which calls for Israel to withdraw from all territories captured during the 1967 Six-Day War in exchange for normalized ties with the Arab world.
The British Sunday Times said Obama expressed this sentiment during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories last July.
Dennis Ross, Obama’s adviser on Middle East policy, issued a statement Sunday, saying “I was in the meeting in Ramallah. Then-senator Obama did not say this, the story is false.”
…The Arab peace initiative, first approved by the Arab League in 2002 in Beirut (and reaffirmed last year), calls for Israel’s withdrawal from all the territories and a solution to the refugee problem in exchange for an Arab recognition of the end to the conflict and normalization between Israel and all the Arab countries.
Of course, from Obama’s viewpoint, the plan makes great sense–whyÂ notÂ go with the plan that has the greatest amount of Arab support behind it, especially when Hamas has to a degree been marginalized by Operation Cast Lead and no longer has unified support, neither from the Arab World nor the EU.Shmuel RosnerÂ points out that in an assessment of the Saudi Peace Plan, given inPrevent Breakdown, Prepare for Breakthrough: How President Obama Can Promote Israeli-Palestinian Peace, David Pollack finds that one of the flaws in the plan is thatÂ Â
the Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel recognition under certain conditions. On the other hand, many of the same Arab governments that made this offer also give various forms of material, moral, and political support to Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction and dedicated to supplanting the rival Palestinian government that has formally offered to make peace.
The fact that this impediment has been weakened can only make the plan seem more appealing to Obama. Keep in mind that, as Ed Morrissey writes,Â Obama is reported to have said that
Obama reportedly told Mahmoud Abbas that “Israel would be crazy” not to accept the plan. He concluded that the Saudi plan would give Israel peace with the entire Muslim world.a. Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights to the lines of June 4, 1967 as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.Â Â
b. Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance withÂ UNÂ General Assembly Resolution 194.c. The acceptance of the establishment of a Sovereign Independent Palestinian State on the Palestinian territories occupied since the 4th of June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.This as opposed to the daring steps to be taken by the Arab world:Â Â
a. Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.
b. Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.
And don’t think that Saudi Arabia doesn’t realize the enormous risk being taken–by the Arab world.
Rosner quotes from an article by Turki al-Faisal,Â who writes:
The Arab world is willing to pay a high price for peace, not only recognizing Israel as a legitimate state but also normalizing relations and putting a permanent end to the state of hostilities that has existed since 1948.
As Rosner notes:
A “high price”? That’s an odd way to put it. Ending hostilities is not a price the Arabs will be paying – it’s the reward they will be getting, that we will all be getting, if an Israeli-Arab agreement is achieved.
Although both Obama andÂ the current Israeli leadershipÂ are eyeing the Saudi Plan, at this point it is certainly worth no more than the paper it is written on. If Obama is going to gamble on putting the Saudi plan in place as his first foreign accomplishment, he should keep in mind that he does not have the most to lose.
Andrew BoltÂ â€“ Thursday, January 29, 09 (12:15 am)
An astonishing line from Barack Obama in his first TV interview as president, that suggests he knows next to nothing about American history or the Middle East:
…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.
Twenty or 30 years ago, when – says Obama – America had “respect and partnership” with the Muslim world, the US was led by this Republican: Link to Heraldsun