Monday, November 10, 2008

Different views on Obama

From The Globe and Mail, by PATRICK MARTIN, November 6, 2008:

JERUSALEM -- Admiration for U.S. president-elect Barack Obama extended across much of the Middle East yesterday with Palestinians in particular holding out hope he would be the answer to their prayers.

However, Palestinian pollster Jamil Rabah cautioned against reading too much into such wide-eyed support. "They like this guy because he's black, because he's not the typical blue-eyed white Westerner. But they don't know anything about what he stands for.

...If some Palestinians were reading too much good into the president-elect, most Israelis were seeing a lot that was bad.

..."The average Israeli is very suspicious of Obama," explained veteran Israeli pollster Rafi Smith. "If the U.S. election had been held in Israel, John McCain would have won in a landslide."

...Barry Rubin, director of research at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, said it's not the relationship between the United States and Israel that he's fearful of. "That relationship will hold," he said. "But I'm extremely worried about the unintended consequences of what might be Obama's approach to the region."

The modern Middle East breaks down into two blocs, Mr. Rubin believes - the Islamists, led or inspired by Iran, and the pro-Western governments. "My concern is that the Islamists will see Obama as weak, and feel able to do what they want. Iran won't be afraid to develop nuclear weapons, Hezbollah won't be afraid to attack Israel and Hamas will be the same."

In that event, he said, "I worry that pro-Western Arab leaders won't feel they're getting the support they need from Washington and that, then, they'll try to appease Iran. In the end, Islamists everywhere will feel bolder."

Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University in Beirut, draws a very different conclusion. "The Islamists have fed off stupid U.S. policies in this region," he said. "If the new American president were to try a more intelligent approach - one of engagement rather than trying to intimidate - the U.S. would cease to be a target of scorn and the Islamists would lose support." It's the prospect of Mr. Obama adopting just such an approach that has so many people in the region feeling excited, he said....
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