Candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan boasted, “Yes we can.” Then the new President promised a 2009 Egyptian audience “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims,” and in November 2009 he claimed, “We’ve restored America’s standing in the world.” But Obama’s boast, his promise and his claim have crumbled across the Muslim world, and so has America’s influence.
Thirty-one months into Obama’s presidency, relations with the Muslim world are the worst ever. Both Muslim public opinion and the deteriorating situation in most Islamic countries evidence anti-Americanism that screams, “No he can’t.”
Obama obviously can’t transform our relationship with the Muslim world, as evidenced by the state of affairs in three bellwether countries.
First, Egypt is a longstanding ally, but its January uprising puts that relationship in jeopardy. Egyptian public opinion is very anti-American, and the coming election plus current events threaten to turn our bilateral relations on their head.
A July 2011 Zogby International survey of Egyptians found only 5% have a favorable opinion of America, lower than during the George W. Bush administration. And a Pew Research survey taken this spring found that Egyptians overwhelmingly (82%) disapprove of Obama’s handling of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and a simple majority (52%) disapprove of the way Obama handled political change in the Middle East.
Those negative marks reflect displeasure with Obama’s flip-floppinig Egypt policy last January. Initially he backed then-President Hosni Mubarak, but as public cries for change grew, Obama called for Mubarak to step down. Then Obama made the strategic mistake of backing Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s unpopular vice president, to replace Mubarak.
Obama makes another mistake if he expects Egypt’s future democratically elected government to be pro-American. Barry Rubin, the director of the Israel-based Global Research in International Affairs Center, argues in his daily blog that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, that nation’s largest political party, will earn 40% of the parliament’s seats this fall. That political tsunami will result in a move to annul the peace treaty with Israel and impose laws that strictly follow the Koran, Islam’s holy book.
Egypt’s transformation to an Islamic state is already evident on several additional fronts. The Obama administration tried to pour $65 million into Egypt this year to help organize secular political parties, but that effort sparked a powerful backlash from Cairo’s military government and the Muslim Brotherhood, which evidently colluded on plans for the future government.
Egypt also reversed past policy by improving relations with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ally and terror group Hamas, which rules the neighboring Gaza Strip. Cairo now allows arms and money to flow into Gaza and refuses to pressure Hamas to make peace with Israel or stop its regular rocket attacks on nearby Jewish settlements.
On other Egyptian fronts there are increased attacks against Coptic Christians, murders of secularists, and more attacks by Islamists. Recently the terror group Takfir wal-Hijra, a group aligned with al-Qaeda, attacked two police stations in el-Arish.
Second, Turkey is on a glide path to become an anti-American Islamist state. Public opinion is already anti-American, but that neo-Ottoman government is purging its military, which until recently kept it on a secular path.
The 2011 Pew Research survey found only one in 10 Turks has a favorable opinion of the U.S., and President Obama gets especially low approval marks (12%) from Turks, down from 23% last year. About two-thirds in Turkey (68%) disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular.
Turkey’s government is run by an Islamic party, the Justice and Development Party, that is Islamatizing the country. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rode to his third election victory this June with a 326-seat majority mandate vowing to rewrite that nation’s constitution to be pro-Islamic. The military drafted the current constitution after a 1980 coup, but the military ceases to be a threat.
Erdogan purged the military of all but Islamic loyalists. Last month, the top military commanders resigned in protest over the government’s arrest of hundreds of current and retired officers on trumped-up charges of plotting against the government, which elicited no response from the Obama administration. Then Erdogan appointed commanders who support the regime’s Islamatization of Turkey.
Turkey’s Islamic transformation is beginning to affect everyday life. The government pressured local officials to ban outdoor eating during the holy month of Ramadan, and there are reports of punishments for women wearing shorts in public and for smoking during Ramadan. Expect Saudi Arabia-style religious police to soon appear on Turkish streets.
Juxtapose these internal changes with Ankara’s close relationship with Iran and how it has distanced itself from formerly close ally Israel after supporting Tehran in the Mavi Marmara affair. That Turkish vessel took part in a flotilla of ships operated by Islamic activists seeking to confront the Israeli blockade over Gaza and was boarded and then diverted by Israeli forces in 2010. Also, the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported in April that the Erdogan government is negotiating to open a Taliban office in Istanbul.
Obviously Turkey’s government is bolstering its Islamic credentials to gain standing in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the Obama administration ignores Turkey’s transformation, which bodes poorly for American influence.
Third, Pakistan, an erstwhile ally armed with 100 nuclear weapons, plays host to our al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban enemies and proliferates weapons of mass destruction. Even though America has given Pakistan $20 billion in aid since 2001, our influence is limited, which is reflected in public opinion polls and a lack of support for ongoing operations in Afghanistan.
The 2011 Pew Research survey found that Pakistanis are very anti-American, perhaps in part because of actions such as our unannounced May 2 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound inside that country. Only 11% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the U.S., a 6-point drop from a similar survey one year ago, and 54% believe their government cooperates too much with the U.S., for example by allowing America to launch terrorist-hunting drones from Pakistani airfields.
The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is one of mutual necessity. America needs that nation’s ports and roads to move supplies to our troops in Afghanistan, and its help defeating the Taliban. But Islamabad plays both sides of the Afghan conflict in order to keep American aid flowing, and ensure the instability of Afghanistan, the country that acts as a buffer against Pakistan’s archenemy, India.
Unfortunately, America’s dwindling influence in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan is replicated across the Muslim world, either because of our policies or in spite of them. For example, Obama supports the NATO bombing of Libya, yet its dictator Muammar Gaddafi, is likely to be replaced by anti-American Islamist rebels. Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, has so far killed 1,700 protesters, which “horrified” Obama. But the President hasn’t called for the dictator to leave, nor will he, because America has no influence in Damascus either.
Our influence is tanking in Iraq after pouring years worth of blood and treasure into that country. By mutual agreement we will leave Iraq this year, and then Iran will likely rush in to manipulate Baghdad and its oil. Meanwhile, Iran continues its atomic arms program and hegemonic ways in spite of our tepid sanctions and meaningless rhetoric.
Obama’s Muslim policies are in shambles, our influence is mostly shot, and while it is sometimes necessary to do business with countries that oppose America, Islamic countries are especially unreliable when the most radical elements grab power. That is why it is time to drop the pretense of compatibility, stop the flow of aid money, and assume tougher political and military policies.