Arab Commentators Want to Be Able to Admire America Again

Pundits in Arab world hopeful Obama victory will put an end to 'white man's monopoly on the White House'.

"The hope that Barack Obama's mere candidacy for office in the U.S. presidential race will generate a fundamental change for the better in President George Bush's policy in the White House is not a reasonable one," the Saudi publicist Hamad Al-Majid wrote recently, in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat daily newspaper.

"But if he Obama is elected, then two positive elements will materialize. First, It will put an end to the white man's monopoly on the White House. Additionally, it will create the optimal conditions for adoption of minor adjustments into American foreign policy, so as to make it less arrogant and less impulsive than the one championed by his predecessor."

The expressions of caution against getting carried away with admiration for the "Obama wonder" contain the elements of the Arab and Muslim outlook on Bush's policy and on its conservative shapers. The "white man" who presided in the White House is the same man who dragged the region into two major wars against Arabs and Muslims; one in Iraq and he other in Afghanistan. He is the same "white man" who nurtured hatred of Arabs and launched a "crusade" against them.

And this is why the "support the world gives Obama is a show of support for America the way Obama would like it to be," as Al-Hayat columnist Jamil Matar put it. "An America that will recover the admiration of the nations for its achievements and its superior values, compared to the backward value system proliferating in other parts of the world. "The world [has given its vote] to Obama so that America may shed its arrogance and its violence and its use of terror and torture, and so that it will employ justice in international commerce. It is also the vote of Arabs for an America that will not hate them or the Muslims or Islam, and that will not side with Israel and support its terrorism," Matar went on to write.

Al-Majid, Matar and many other Muslim and Arab commentators who have expressed themselves about the presidential race over the past week have come to view Obama not only as the man who will head the American executive arm, an architect of a new foreign policy or political and economical plans, but a giant who will alter America's essence, as it was molded by Bush.

Obama is seen as a person who will allow Muslims and Arabs to internalize Western ideas rather than reject them only because the person spreading them is a unscrupulous thug.

"The world is not preoccupied with the question of who will be the next U.S. secretary of state," Matar also wrote. "What the world is interested in is having a man who will step into the White House and announce the end of a dark phase in American history, and in the history of the world."

That "dark phase" went on for the eight years in which Bush sat in the White House, which left a deep rift between America and Islam. The fundamental cause for this rift, however, the 9/11 terrorist attack, is hardly ever mentioned in columns in the Arab media. For the Arab commentators, the phase began, rather, with the invasion of Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, and continued with Bush's lackadaisical approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The White House itself is not worse or better that it was under Bill Clinton, but it is guilty of one great sin - that of arrogance and condescension. Those words keep recurring in articles by Arab and Muslim thinkers.

That same arrogance is seen by them as the generating force behind the "New Middle East," which aspired to bring democracy and equality to Muslim nations - by force, if necessary - while in fact the U.S. administration supported dictatorial regimes like those in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Is the ideological change for which the Arab thinkers long capable of changing U.S. foreign policy? That optimistic prediction is hard to come by even in Iraqi and Afghan papers, let alone in Iranian media. The media in the region continue to focus on the number of casualties from terror attacks, furor over U.S. air raids in Afghanistan and the fear in Iraq concerning the strategic agreement between Baghdad and the U.S., which might mean American troops will stay in the country for another three years at least.

In Iraq and Pakistan, everybody knows no new American president, Republican or Democrat, is going to be able to change matters overnight. For the time being, the president-elect can only create a new atmosphere. And that already would be no small feat.