Hisham Melhem writes: For more than three decades, I have tried to interpret America to the Arabs and to explain the Arabs to Americans. I have never seen such disillusionment with an American president and his policies expressed by people in the region, ordinary citizens as well as public figures. In private, I have heard Arab officials express critical views of Obama and his style of leadership bordering on utter contempt; some Israeli officials did that publicly. For his Arab allies, Obama was too deferential to Iran and too quick to dump President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt — views also held by Israeli officials. Arabs feel Obama also mishandled Syria, a view strongly held also by Turkey. It is rarely the case for an American president to find that his relationships with Arabs, Israelis, and Turks are simultaneously troubled and in some cases very bitter.
Nor is Obama popular with the region’s ordinary citizens. A Pew Research Center poll in June 2015 shows that Obama’s image in the Middle East is mostly negative, with more than eight in ten Palestinians and Jordanians saying that they have no confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. In Lebanon 64 percent have no confidence in Obama’s leadership, with only 50 percent of Israelis saying they have confidence in the American president. In Turkey Obama’s fortune is better, but not by much where 46 percent of Turks have a negative assessment of his leadership. There is much anecdotal evidence showing that Arab youth in general have soured on Obama, accusing him of reneging on his early pledges to oppose Arab despotism and to stand by those who sought peaceful change in Egypt and Bahrain, and of abandoning Libya after the fall of the Gadhafi regime. However, what angers many Arabs is Obama’s disastrous handling of the Syrian conflict; they blame his indecisiveness on challenging the Bashar Al-Assad regime’s predations, and halfhearted measures toward helping the Syrian opposition, for the worst human tragedy in the twenty-first century. [Continue reading…]