Yesterday, President Obama sat down with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television for his first formal interview in office. The interview was notable not only for the substance of Obama’s remarks, but also for the symbolism of directly reaching out to Muslims so early in his presidency. Obama said that his job “to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”
Host Hisham Melhem noted that President Bush had framed the struggle against extremism as a “war on terror,” using terminology like “Islamic fascism” to describe America’s adversary. “You’ve always framed it in a different way,” Melhem said. Obama then talked about the advantages of shifting away from Bush’s language:
OBAMA: 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. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.
“But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship,” Obama added. Watch it:
Indeed, a Pentagon funded RAND study last year recommended that the U.S. do away with its “war on terror” terminology as the strategy behind it was “not successful in undermining al Qai’da’s capabilities.” The report said it also “encourages others abroad to respond by conducting a jihad (or holy war) against the United States and elevates them to the status of holy warriors.”
As the Washington Post noted, Bush’s “war on terror” came to an end this week, with Obama signing executive orders eliminating torture, rendition and indefinite detention. “We intend to win this fight,” he said. “We’re going to win it on our terms.”
Moreover, Obama has made a number of bold maneuvers indicating his intention to extend a hand of friendship — and not just more guns — toward Muslim nations:
– Called out to Muslims in his inauguration speech: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” Obama said.
– First international phone call was to Abbas: “This is my first phone call to a foreign leader and I’m making it only hours after I took office,” Obama told Palestinian President Abbas.
– Appointed George Mitchell as ambassador: Obama appointed Mitchell as his top diplomatic envoy to the Middle East. Mitchell is considered “fair” and “meticulously even-handed” in the Israeli/Palestinian debate.
– Will give a speech to the Muslim world: Obama’s aides say he is likely to make a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.
Naturally, Commentary calls the interview “seriously ill-advised.” The American Spectator’s Quin Hillyer’s wrote a post titled, “This…Blows…My…Mind.” But this new posture is indicative of why Obama has such strong support from Muslims abroad and why al Qaeda is rendered “nervous” by his international stature.