Home > General Policy > Obama in Al Arabiya interview: ‘Americans are not your enemy’

Obama in Al Arabiya interview: ‘Americans are not your enemy’

Following closely on his promise, delivered in the inaugural address, to “seek a new way forward” with the Muslim world, President Obama gave his first foreign interview and first interview from the White House to Al Arabiya television. It was broadcast Monday night.

Obama’s interview has caused the spilling of barrels of ink and pixels already–as much for the fact that he gave it to the Dubai-based, Saudi-owned channel as for what he said in it.

Let’s recap some of the highlights from the speech. The president began with a conciliatory tone:

And so what I told [special envoy George Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues –and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. 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.

He reiterated his prior line on Iran: he attacked Iranian conduct, but still stressed the need to speak directly to Iran (he also delivered the now-requisite preface about the greatness of the Iranian people and the Persian civilization; I find this habit of irrelevant recourse to ancient history annoying, distracting and Orientalist).

Obama also confirmed the United States’ “special relationship” with Israel, but he stressed the need for new thinking and new approaches. He said he was optimistic about the prospects for peace, although this is also something his predecessor said–and on Al Arabiya, no less. The New York Times’ Lede blog points out that in an interview with the network one year ago, Bush said of the peace process, “I believe it’s going to get done before my presidency is over.”

The Washington Post painted the interview as presenting a 180 from Bush’s approach:

But in tone, his comments were a stark departure from those of former president George W. Bush, who often described the Middle East conflict in terms that drew criticism from Palestinians.

By contrast, Obama went out of his way to say that if America is “ready to initiate a new partnership [with the Muslim world] based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.

The Times, meanwhile, said many Muslims were hedging, on the assumption that actions speak louder than words:

There was also, however, a reluctance to judge Mr. Obama on his words alone. “Let’s see your promise, American president, for an independent Palestinian state,” said a commenter on Al Arabiya’s Web site, identified only as Alsomary. “And let’s see your promise for peace with the world, and especially the Islamic world. Then for sure we will learn to love America through your actions.”

Here is a full transcript of the interview from the Arabiya site, and here is video:

—David Graham, Trinity ’09 and editor

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  1. Bruce Lawrence
    January 28, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Hi David

    This is a great way to make President Obama’s message available to everyone in the Duke community, and now we can also follow the trail of Senator George Mitchell, as he begins his long journey toward peace in the Middle East.

    Many thanks,

    Dr. Lawrencxe

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