Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

No Standing O for Obama


A few months back I had a quick exchange with President Barack Obama about the US standing in the Arab world. When I mentioned that we would be conducting a poll to assess Arab attitudes two years after his Cairo speech, he responded that he expected that the ratings would be quite low and would remain low until the US could help find a way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Well, the results are in, and the president was right. In our survey of over 4,000 Arabs from six countries (Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), we found that favourable attitudes towards the US had declined sharply since our last poll (which had been conducted in 2009 after Obama’s first 100 days in office).

Back then, Arabs were hopeful that the new president would bring needed change to the US-Arab relationship and the early steps taken by his administration served to reinforce this view. As a result, favourable attitudes towards the US climbed significantly from Bush-era lows. But as our respondents made clear in this year’s survey, those expectations have not been met and US favourable ratings, in most Arab countries, have now fallen to levels lower than they were in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration. In Morocco, for example, positive attitudes towards the United States went from 26 per cent in 2008 to a high of 55 per cent in 2009. Today, they have fallen to 12 per cent. The story was much the same in Egypt, where the US rating went from nine per cent in 2008 to 30 per cent in 2009 and has now plummeted to five per cent in this year’s survey.

A review of the poll’s other results makes it clear that the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands is seen by most Arabs as both the main “obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East” and “the most important issue for the US to address in order to improve its ties with the Arab world”. That Palestine trumps all of the other issues measured in the survey throws cold water on the wishful thinking of some analysts in the US and Israel who want to imagine that, in the context of this Arab Spring, Arabs now feel “that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not as central to their lives as they were led to believe”.

What our respondents tell us is the second highest ranking “obstacle to peace and stability” is “US interference in the Arab world”, which explains why the US role in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya is neither viewed favourably in most countries, nor is it seen as improving Arab attitudes towards America. In fact when presented with several countries (Turkey, Iran, France, China, the US) and asked to evaluate whether or not each of them play a constructive role “in promoting peace and stability in the Arab world” eight in 10 Arabs give a negative assessment to the US role, rating it significantly lower than France, Turkey, China, and, in four of six Arab countries, even lower than Iran.

All of this might have been expected, as it was by the president, but it is still sobering news that should send a strong signal to all Americans and should serve as a check on the reckless behaviour of some lawmakers. For example, when Congress invites the prime minister of Israel to give an address that challenges and insults the president — and then gives the foreign leader repeated standing ovations — they are telling Arabs that America can’t and won’t play a constructive peace making role.

And when Congress continues to obstruct diplomacy and supports bills cutting much needed assistance programmes to the Palestinians, Lebanon, and Egypt, they are sending Arabs the wrong message at the wrong time. And when neo-conservatives continue to argue for a more muscular Middle East foreign policy, urging the White House to use force or to make more demands on various Arab parties, they are blind to the realities of the region and are treading on dangerous ground.

To his credit, the president understands the dilemma America confronts across the Arab world. He began his term in office with the right intentions and sent signals he would move in the right direction. But, as I have noted, on Inauguration Day Barack Obama did not receive a magic wand.

Instead, he was handed the shovel that George W Bush had been using to dig deep holes all over the Middle East. Getting out of those holes has been harder than he imagined. In addition to confronting the worst domestic economic crisis in generations, the president had to face down two failed wars, an incorrigible and manipulative Israeli leader, a divided and dysfunctional Palestinian polity, and a wary but hopeful (maybe too hopeful) world that expected him to deliver on promised change. If that weren’t enough, the president was confronted from Day One by a deeply partisan Washington, in which a unified Republican opposition behaved as if they wanted nothing more than to see him fail.

If anything, the results of this latest poll of Arab opinion demonstrate how precarious the position of the United States is in the Middle East and how important it has become for American policy-makers to pay attention to what Arabs are saying to us. Some may play politics with critical Middle East issues and gloat at their success at having stymied the president’s efforts to make peace and restore America’s image in the region. But as the results of this survey make clear, their success has come at a price; one that is being paid by the entire country.

James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute.


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases