Two years after President Obama took office and embarked upon a kinder, gentler approach to dealing with the Muslim world, we must ask whether this approach is bearing fruit. Perhaps the best indicator of this is how the “Arab street” commemorated the last anniversary of 9/11. Translations of numerous articles about 9/11 published in Arab newspapers suggest that the Arab world’s perception of America is deteriorating.
Unsurprisingly, the state-controlled media in Iran and Syria pervert the significance of the day America mourns the loss of more than 3,000 of its citizens at the hands of Muslim fanatics. In Iran, a newspaper serving as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s mouthpiece claimed the US was the real “planner and executor” of 9/11. Syria — Iran’s lapdog — followed suit, reporting that the real victim of 9/11 was the criminal who planned it.
But what is disheartening to read are the 9/11 anniversary articles that have appeared in Arab states considered our friends and allies.
A newspaper in Kuwait — the country America liberated from brutal Iraqi invaders in 1990 — claimed the U.S., and American Jews in particular, were involved in the 9/11 attacks. In Egypt — a country to which the U.S. provides $3 billion in aid annually — a government newspaper made a more subtle claim of U.S. complicity. While not necessarily relieving Muslim extremists of responsibility, the publication suggested, “The events of 9/11 opened the door to anyone with an agenda hostile to Islam and the Muslims…” — suggesting the U.S. exploited it to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Newspapers in Qatar expressed doubts about Obama’s claim that the U.S. is waging a war against terrorism and not against Islam, suggesting he is targeting both Muslims in Muslim countries and Muslims in America.
In Saudi Arabia — an ally in the fight against Islamic extremists, and a country in which claims of U.S. involvement in 9/11 had never before appeared — a newspaper article last September suggested that the U.S. was involved in the attacks: “This year, several enlightened Europeans began to point an accusing finger at the Israeli Mossad and at several figures in the U.S. who were influential at the time. What underscores this theory’s accuracy is the U.S.’s malicious intent to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, long before [9/11]…American authorities had advance knowledge…[Further proof of U.S. involvement] is the sharp drop in the price of shares of U.S. airline companies 24 hours prior to the events, and the bringing in of emergency teams from outside New York, into the city, also 24 hours before the events…American forensic experts who autopsied the bodies and body parts…found no proof of DNA linked to Arabs…”
Some articles — failing to criticize Muslim extremist terrorists — criticized Christian extremists in the U.S., such as Pastor Terry Jones, who threatened, but was discouraged from, burning copies of the Quran. Citing this as an example of “religious terrorism” against Muslims, Arab journalists failed to note that moderate Christians — unlike moderate Muslims — rose up to criticize and prevent such a Christian extremist from acting.
Arab journalists invoke neither logic nor truth about 9/11. But more importantly, two years after a new U.S. president embarked on an anti-terrorism policy that involves never using the words “Islam” or “Islamist” to identify the threat we face in 9/11’s aftermath, we have lost ground on the Arab street.
Obama’s gentle approach is supposed to appeal to Muslim “moderates.” The truth is that we should not expect to win over Muslim moderates, who, rather than examining the facts, will choose to believe what they want to believe. These articles reveal a lack of confidence in Obama in the Arab world — supported by recent polls showing the president’s popularity at all-time lows across the Middle East.
Since the days of the Sumerians 4,000 years ago, the concept of the “lugal” — a leader both feared and revered — has thrived in the Middle East. Arabs have never respected weak leadership. Arabs today perceive Obama as a weak leader. Only by demonstrating strength in dealing with Middle East threats will this perception change. Obama can start changing his image by taking decisive action to confront Iran, a regional bully intimidating all in the neighborhood with its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Not until Iran is confronted and stopped from doing so will U.S .and moderate Arab interests be aligned — and Obama finally be respected.
Lieutenant Colonel James Zumwalt is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam War, the 1989 intervention into Panama and Desert Storm. An author, speaker and business executive, he also currently heads a security consulting firm named after his father—Admiral Zumwalt & Consultants, Inc.