Hard To Earn

Marc Lynch goes through the latest Gallup poll about what’s important to Arab public opinion. It was conducted before the Gaza war — way before, in fact: May-August 2008, so this is, as Marc notes, not indicative of any "Obama Effect" that may or may not materialize — and demonstrates an opportunity for President Obama to deliver on the outreach to the Muslim world implicitly offered in his Al Arabiya interview:

Gallup also asked which of series of actions by the U.S. would improve views of American leadership. The main finding was that "residents in eight of the countries surveyed are most likely to say the United States’ withdrawal from Iraq would improve their opinion very significantly."  Closing Guantanamo was also frequently cited, while a variety of economic and political reform suggestions received a degree of support varying by country.

Well, done and done, basically, and we’ve just entered Week Two of the next four years. No one should be under the misimpression that there’s any sort of magic bullet for repairing U.S. esteem in the Arab world. There are and will continue to be real points of divergence in interests — the U.S./Israel partnership, for instance, isn’t going to be jettisoned, to Arab chagrin. But what’s important — and what’s been lacking for eight years — is a presumption of basic good faith on the part of the U.S., so that even when the U.S. acts on areas of mutual interest, Arab publics interpret those actions accordingly. That in turn requires visible U.S. action on issues of concern to those Arab publics despite political difficulties.

Seen in that light, it’s reasonable to expect leaving Iraq and shutting Guantanamo to earn the Obama administration some dividends — stuff that’s going to be important when the U.S. has to, say, extract difficult Arab acceptance of peace terms with Israel or launch Hellfire missiles at Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen or something.

Crossposted to The Streak.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman