The Arabs are not too happy with President Obama

by omouggos

The relationship between the Arabs and Obama has soured. (image from

When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America in 2008 among his fervent supporters, and even those who were less than impressed with him, there was a hope bordering on a conviction, that he would improve America’s standing in the world. Following eight years of President Bush, with his inarticulate yahoo style and his ‘you are either with us or against us’ mentality,[1] many nations and people throughout the world were, to say the least, put off by what they perceived as the arrogance and imperialism of America.

To undo all of Bush’s damage on the international scene, who better than Obama the multicultural poster boy. His mother was a white American of Irish descent, while his father was a Kenyan and his step father an Indonesian. Both of his ‘fathers’ were Muslims and he spent  a couple of his childhood years in Indonesia. With such a culturally diverse background, coupled to his smooth talking and his progressivism, all the world’s problems would be solved and America’s global image restored. So we were told, but world events can unfold much differently than what naive and wishful people hope and think they will.

It all started so well with Obama. In 2009 he made a much vaunted speech at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo.[2] But the initial mania was slowly and surely dissipated by reality. It first started with the Arab Spring, which many initially believed would politically liberate the Arab world, but which ultimately destabilized the region leading to a state of veritable chaos.

The once relatively prosperous Libya had its dictator Qaddafi deposed and in his stead arose warring tribes and Islamist groups. Obama had a role to play in initiating the chaos, as he launched, along with other European nations, airstrikes against Qaddafi’s military. Oddly Obama and company were content with knocking out Qaddafi but made no effort to ensure that he was succeeded by something better or at least equivalent.

Then in Egypt the dictator Mubarak, a long time ally of the US, was abandoned by Obama, enabling Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the country. Chaos ensued and when the general al-Sisi staged a successful counter coup and jailed Morsi, the US seemed to be giving much more support to the latter than they did to Mubarak prior to his ousting.

To observers in the Arab world, whether common folk, analysts or leaders, Obama’s behavior was highly troubling. It seemed as if he was abandoning and, even working against, what were traditional allies, such as Mubarak in Egypt, or those who had played ball with the West, such as Qaddafi in Libya, to promote the emergence of Islamist groups.

However, what really caused the Arab world to seemingly turn against Obama, was his openness to Iran and his conduct towards the Syrian Civil War. Relating to the latter, the Sunni nations of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have been materially and financially supporting the rebel groups against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even though many of the supported groups are hardcore Islamists such as Jabat al-Nusra. It is even believed that these Sunni nations had provided support to ISIL and maybe still are, but that is a story for another day. The Sunni Arabs are against Assad because he is an Alawite (a Shiite group) and a proxy of Iran. Consequently they yearn for his destruction and for Syria to be ruled by a more agreeable, preferably Sunni, regime.

Because of Assad tenaciously holding on to power, regardless that his nation was and is being decimated in the process, and thanks to support from Iran and Russia, his regime has been able to survive despite the support Sunni nations have given to the rebel groups. Unable to effect change themself, the Sunnis have been clamoring for America to intervene in Syria, either with the deployment of troops, the establishment of a no-fly zone or the provision of heavy weaponry to rebel forces. At a certain level such an intervention should appeal to the US foreign policy establishment, particularly the neo-conservatives, who it is reported had their eyes on taking out Syria, but the debacle that was the invasion and occupation of Iraq stymied such plans, at least temporarily.[3]

However, under the Presidency of Obama, the US–while intervening to some extent under the guise of combating ISIL, via airstrikes, political pressure, limited troop deployments and supporting certain rebel groups–has not really gone all in to finish off Assad. At one point it appeared that the US was ready to attack after Obama issued a red line pertaining to Assad’s use of chemical weapons,[4] but rather abruptly and unexpectedly Obama changed his mind and backed down, squandering his best opportunity to escalate the Syrian Civil War and take out Assad. From the Sunni Arab perspective, Obama’s vacillation is compounded by what appeared to be a warming of the US to Russia in the ongoing negotiations to cease the civil war.[5]

On to the Iran issue, for some reason, or reasons, which are not obvious, Obama seems hell bent on a rapprochement with Iran through a nuclear agreement. Since at least 2011 the Obama administration has been attempting to negotiate with Iran, during which time the “radical” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the Iranian president.[6] While Obama may believe that the JCPOA could actually prevent Iran from going nuclear, that it will somehow embolden the pragmatic camp and mollify the radical nature of Iran’s current leadership (i.e. Khamenei), or maybe he is motivated purely by vanity or some other reason, we at least have a good idea what the Sunni Arab states think about this agreement. In there view it will only strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East and do little to prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons and the systems needed to deliver them. Such is the Saudi fear of an empowered Iran that they are seriously considering obtaining their own nukes or may even have nukes already.[7]

Based on these events the Arabs are not too pleased with Obama and do not think very highly of him anymore. For instance Ahmed Moussa, an Egyptian TV host, opined that Obama should be sent “to the guillotine” and “should be sat on an impalement rod.”[8] Beyond demanding impalement, other Egyptians have taken the racist route and referred to the President as “Nigger Obama.”[9] Syrian journalist Ghassan Yassin recently wrote an article titled “Obama the Butcher of Aleppo.”[10] Another Syrian journalist Hanadi Al-Khatib mocked Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize writing “what have you done for world peace that justifies your Nobel Prize?”[10] She also went on:

“The US is governed today by a racist president, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who lies to the world using the word ‘democracy’. This is a president who quickly washes his hands of the Syrians’ blood, refuses to establish a safe zone, [sits by and] watches as ISIS – which he claims to be fighting – flourishes and grows for four years, expels the refugees, and boasts to the Syrians that he may possibly take in a few thousand refugees, [and this] while his ambassadors around the world expel the Syrians unless they can demonstrate that they have thousands of dollars in their bank account.”

As bad as Obama’s reputation was in the Arab world, it has gotten even worse, thanks to the recent publication of an interesting and revelatory article in the Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg.[11] The Obama Doctrine presents the principles underpinning Obama’s foreign policy, as told to Goldberg in a series of interviews with the President and other White House and government officials. It is rather odd that a President would reveal such information pertaining to foreign policy while still in office. Maybe he was attempting to justify to his critics the validity of his foreign geopolitical decisions, or maybe–and based on the character and temperament of the President that emergence from the Goldberg article this is a real possibility–he wanted to express his contempt for Arab leaders and publicly slight them. If Obama was attempting to mollify his critics, particularly his Arab ones, then he failed horribly. However, if he wanted to malign and rankle them then he has succeeded brilliantly.

One may wonder what was so opprobrious about Obama’s revelations. To begin with he blamed much of the radicalization seen in the Muslim world on the Wahabism emanating from Saudi Arabia. And referring to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia he said “a country cannot function in the modern world when it is repressing half of its population.” When asked by Goldberg if Saudi Arabia was an ally of the US, the President responded, “it’s complicated.” More broadly he described segments of the Middle East as “malicious, nihilistic [and] violent” and that the main problem with the Arab world was that it is highly tribalistic. Also he does not believe that the Middle East should be America’s main foreign policy. He lamented “All I need in the Middle East is a few smart autocrats” and “If only everyone could be like the Scandinavians, this would all be easy.” He complained “Free riders aggravate me,” referring to US allies–European and Arab nations–that want the US to do their dirty work. Furthermore, an administration official referred to Massachusetts Avenue, home to many foreign policy think tanks, as “Arab-occupied territory.

Regardless of the accuracy of such statements and opinions, the Arabs were not too happy with such a characterization, particularly columnists writing for the Saudi backed Al-Arabiya media outlet. Abdulrahman al-Rashed wrote an article entitled Obama’s shocking words.[12] Faisal J. Abbas stated “There is little doubt that Arabs will never forget how Obama let them down and sided with Tehran,” while in another article he likened the President to the Batman character “Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent.”[13] Hisham Melhem characterized Obama as “a man strikingly impervious to introspection, unwilling or incapable of leading a great power, and for whom multilateralism consists of leading by a committee of nations almost on par with the sole superpower in the world.”[14] He also described the President as “a tireless sophist and procrastinator” and “icily cold, churlish towards his allies, and disdainful of some of his aides and cabinet members.” He continues “The portrait unintentionally looks like that of a President who is arrogant in the extreme. He is totally and absolutely in the right, and time will convince his critics that they are in the wrong.” Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a one time director of his nation’s intelligence agency, responded to the President “No, Mr. Obama. We are not “free riders.””[15]

I must admit that as an outside observer to this row between Obama and the Arabs I am a bit torn as who to side with. On the one hand I am no fan of the President and even have disdain for him, yet I agree with many of his revelations pertaining to the Arabs and the Middle East found in the Goldberg. On the other hand I am also no fan of the Saudis considering them to be a major source of the world’s Islamic extremism, yet I can understand their discontent with Obama and I fully agree with Hisham Melhem’s characterization of him as a cold unempathetic sophist, incapable of accepting criticism or differing views, who is overflowing with unjustified arrogance. Compounding my confusion is that, although at face value Obama does in my eyes come off reasonably well in the Goldberg article, I do consider the latter to be a puff piece of sorts that is overstating the thoughtfulness of  Obama’s foreign policy.[16]

But what is interesting to me is that with Obama having his falling out with the Arab world, it is ironic that of all leaders this would happen with, it was with him. After all, whenever Obama speaks to foreign audiences, whether Arab or other, he is always ingratiating, fastidiously making sure to praise the history and culture of the audience, while never missing a chance to point out the flaws of his own nation. At times this behavior is almost obsequious, like when he bowed to the then Saudi King Abdullah.[17] Yet in spite of his constant propitiations, he is still hated by the Arabs. Mind you when Obama was behaving like this to the Arabs, if we are to believe portrayal found in The Obama Doctrine, he may have been putting on an act, as he seems to be brimming with contempt for the leaders of the Arab world. I guess Faisal J. Abbas was probably spot on to call him Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent. Still, his duplicity was unable to win the favor of the Arabs.

The moral of the story for liberals, progressives and two-faces, is that attempting to be overly accommodating to foreign groups, especially to the point of being obsequious, does not engender respect or amity especially when they sense it is disingenuous or over the top like Obama with the Arabs. This is not to say that I am advocating being impolite, rude or offensive to others, just that acting like a servile yuppy will most likely lead to others having contempt for you. For instance while many are freaking out over Donald Trump’s blunt approach, which they fear will marginalize and incense Muslims and others throughout the world, an Islamist from England, Abu Haleema says “What Donald Trump said is a mercy from Allah, because it took a taghout infidel like that to let you people know that they don’t like you, that they don’t want you in their lands, that they hate you. It took a taghout infidel like that. I’d rather have him tell us that than someone like Obama – a snake who hides it.”[18]

It seems like Obama has been repeating his conciliatory ways with Cuba and, once again, is reaping the disdain of Cubans. During his trip to Cuba, Obama gave a speech in which he said a few words in the Cuban Spanish dialect, obviously as a friendly gesture. Well, one Cuban journalist didn’t think too highly of Obama’s gesture.[19] Iroel Sanchez gave the following critical analysis:

“Obama spoke in the local Cuban dialect. He was like a child who has just learnt how to speak, and who discovers a new word, so he repeats it time and again. I think it was a little stupid. The first time it was funny, but the second time it was pathetic. He brought with him a bunch of stereotypical ideas. He brought with him a bunch of stereotypical ideas. He had heard from his advisors a little bit about the Cuban reality, but he reiterated stereotypical ideas that are in line with the Miami perspective. But Cuba is not Miami. So he lost the ability to connect with the people, having come in an attempt to make the people love him.”

Sanchez went on, “I believe that his speech was extremely simplistic. He talked about (Cuban prima ballerina) Alicia Alonso and about the rapper Pitbull. He placed them on the same level, although the two cannot be compared. They have nothing in common. He compared the profound and deep-rooted culture (of Alonso) to a primitive commercial phenomenon.” So Cubans themselves, as represented by the journalist Sanchez, see Obama’s obsequiousness as condescending and as basically an ignorant caricature of their Cuban culture. As such they are not impressed by such overtures and may even find them contemptible. Oddly in The Obama Doctrine, the President mentions that his re-establishment of ties with Cuba, which he believes has removed a stumbling block to increasing America’s influence in Latin America, is proof that his “deliberate, nonthreatening, diplomacy-centered approach to foreign relations is working.” I guess Obama is oblivious to the sentiments of Sanchez and other Cubans and Latin Americans, such trivialities do not concern him.

Ultimately, Obama’s ingratiating and “nonthreatening” approach to dealing with foreign nations, contrary to his own perception, does not appear to be successful. All it has accomplished is to ignite the opprobrium of many across the world, whether it be the Arabs, Cubans or others. It will be interesting to see how the world responds to a potential Trump Presidency, as his way of dealing with others will be the polar opposite to that of Obama’s. There will be much less pandering and much more blunt straight-talk. I suspect, that instead of inciting others around the world, Trump’s style will be much more respected than that of Obama’s and even more popular. For it is apparent that the Arabs, Cubans and many others do not like a groveling two-face.

O Mouggos






[5] ,


[7] See my previous posts Update on Middle East situation: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan threaten Iran with nukes and Does Saudi Arabia have nuclear weapons?

[8] See my previous post Egyptian TV host thinks Obama should be impaled





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[16] I am working on a critical analysis of The Obama Doctrine which will be posted some time in the future.