Outreach to Muslims Starts New Path In Mideast

January 27, 2009

Author: Robert Burns

Source: The Associated Press


Even before crafting its own Middle East strategy, the Obama administration is making clear that its approach will differ — in tone and style, if not also in substance — from its predecessor's.

In choosing an Arab network for his first televised interview to declare, "Americans are not your enemy," President Barack Obama signaled a break with the past. The substance of the shift may have to wait, but the symbolism is immediate and likely to be reinforced with an early presidential visit to a Muslim nation.

The administration sees a great deal at stake, and not just the future prospect for Arab-Israeli peace. There also is the broader struggle against Islamic extremism — what the George W. Bush administration called a "global war on terrorism" — and the prospect for stability and democracy in Iraq.

The stakes stretch to Afghanistan, the Central Asian launching pad for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and where tens of thousands more U.S. troops are likely to be fighting in the months ahead. At least as important is the related problem of Pakistan, the nuclear-armed Muslim nation whose largely ungoverned areas along the border with Afghanistan are a haven for al-Qaida and other terrorists.

The list of related issues runs longer: Syria, Lebanon, Iran.

Obama came into office convinced, based in part on intelligence briefings he received during the presidential transition, that reaching out to the far-flung Arab and Muslim worlds was not only important but urgent, according to Denis McDonough, Obama's deputy assistant for strategic communications.

Obama wants to repair America's image in the eyes of the billion-strong adherents to Islam, McDonough said.