During a historic presidential campaign season, President Obama promised all sorts of reform and improved relations; an overhaul of the countries health care system, education system improvements, and eased relations between the classes and races of society.
One of the biggest and ultimately, most elusive promises, has been to improve the United States' image in the Middle East and creating better U.S.-Arab relations. While Obama should be commended for reaching out in many ways to the Arab world, the promise that one person could singularly heal generations of hate, ignorance, and fear is laughable.
Obama has made many symbolic gestures, of course. For instance, his first post-inauguration interview was with the Arab television network, Al Arabiya. He also took a whirlwind trip around the Middle East, meeting, greeting and schmoozing with various presidents, kings and dignitaries. He made a highly anticipated speech in Egypt, where he assured the Arab world that we are not their enemies, but have common goals and aspirations.
While some (if not all,) of these actions and decisions were criticized at home, President Obama has stuck to his resolution of strengthening relations with the Arab world, and almost as importantly, refurbishing the image of the U.S. in the Middle East. While he certainly has a long way to go, there have been indications that the Arab world has been warming up to him and his policies. In March, a Gallup poll showed that only 25% of Egyptians approved of U.S. leadership performance. This, however, is double what it was during Bush's presidency.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, on his first trip to the US capitol in five years, lavished praise on President Obama for "remov(ing) all doubts about the United States and the Muslim world. The Islamic world had thought that the U.S was against Islam, but his great, fantastic address there has removed all these doubts."
One of Obama's key foreign policy goals has been to broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Obama believes this is a cornerstone in building a good relationship with the Arab world, since it has been a sticking point in many past attempts to alleviate tensions. Though he and his administration have tried to help both Israelis and Palestinians come to a mutual agreement, it has evaded his grasp, like so many other failed attempts of the past.
Obama's promise on the campaign trail to withdraw troops from Iraq had also bolstered his status within the Middle East. However, the shine quickly wore off, when it was with jaded acknowledgment that the Arab world responded to his increase of troops in Afghanistan, instead.
The promise of change and hope coupled with skepticism has shaped the way the Arab world sees the U.S. While some say that Obama has not done nearly enough to bolster America's image internationally, his actions and words have shown that he is serious about achieving peace and a mutually beneficial relationship with the Arab world.
We must remember that Obama has only been in office for 7 months—not nearly enough time to change misconceptions that run so deeply on both sides. While he will not be able to deliver on all campaign trail promises, what politician honestly can? The fact that he has reached out to the Middle East and extended his hand should help us glimpse into how he plans to use diplomacy throughout the rest of his term.