Obama and the Muslim World: Where did the love go?

Dear Folks,

Yikes, well, it is Friday, and thank goodness, because today is the day where I can watch mindless schlock like ITV’s “House in the Sun” and not feel guilty about wasting time. Yes, it feels good. The parliament in Brussels was quiet this week because everyone was in Strasbourg for the plenary sessions. I like this time because you have peace and tranquility; however it is also unfortunate because the cafes they open during this period offer the worst coffee. It is just not pleasant. Brussels is screaming for some decent cafes with real coffee.

But on to my post, because that is what it is all about. So, it seems the love story between the Muslim world and President Barack Obama could be waning.  The AP reported on the findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, who conducted studies in April and May in the United States and 21 other countries by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Among the seven countries surveyed with substantial Muslim populations, the U.S. was seen favorably by just 17 percent in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan and 21 percent in Jordan. The U.S.’s positive rating was 52 percent in Lebanon, 59 percent in Indonesia and 81 percent in Nigeria, where Muslims comprise about half the population.

None of those figures was an improvement from last year. There were slight dips in Jordan and in Indonesia, where Obama spent several years growing up. Egypt saw a 10-point drop, even though Obama gave a widely promoted June 2009 speech in Cairo aimed at reaching out to the Muslim world.

In all seven of those countries, the percentage of Muslims expressing confidence in Obama has also dropped since last year. Only in Nigeria and Indonesia do majorities of Muslims voice confidence in him; in Obama’s worst showing, just 8 percent in Pakistan do.

The survey found that majorities of the public in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon and Pakistan say the U.S. could someday be a military threat to their country.

“You get a sense of Muslim disappointment with Barack Obama,” said Andy Kohut, the Pew president, who attributed it to discontent with U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to expectations raised by Obama’s Cairo speech.

The surveys were taken before Israel’s deadly May 31 clash with a flotilla of boats trying to break the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, which sparked widespread condemnation of Israel.

In the rest of the world, the U.S. and Obama generally fare better.

The 6 in 10 in Germany and Spain who view the U.S. favorably has doubled from the lows reached under Bush. The U.S. image is also significantly better than it was under Bush in Russia, China, France, Argentina, South Korea and Japan. Obama is broadly supported, but the percentages expressing confidence in him have ebbed in 14 countries polled.

In only five countries do majorities think the U.S. considers other nations when setting its foreign policy. Support for U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and Obama’s handling of economic problems is generally strong, but there is significant opposition to American involvement in Afghanistan and little faith that a stable government will emerge in Iraq.

The poll also found that:

_In the seven Muslim nations polled, the portion of Muslims saying suicide attacks are sometimes justified ranged from 39 percent in Lebanon to 5 percent in Turkey. Nowhere did Muslims give majority support to Osama bin Laden or his al-Qaida terrorist group.

_In every nation but Poland, China and Brazil, most are unhappy with how things are going in their country, though dissatisfaction has grown in only three countries in the past year. Attitudes about each country’s economic situation are similarly negative, though a bit brighter than a year ago.

_Nine in 10 Chinese are happy with their country’s economy, by far the highest mark of any nation polled. China is seen more positively than negatively in 15 countries, and in eight countries China is viewed as the world’s leading economic power – up from two who said so last year.

_Only in Pakistan does a majority favor Iran having nuclear weapons. In most countries, economic sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program get higher support than military action. But significant numbers are prepared for a showdown: In 16 countries, more people who oppose Iran’s nuclear program consider stopping Tehran from getting such weapons more important than avoiding a military conflict.

_More people in every country except Egypt and Jordan said the environment should be a priority, even at the cost of economic growth and jobs. But only in nine countries are half or more willing to pay higher prices to address global warming.

Well there you have it folks. I don’t envy Obama, but he has to take control and show where his interests truly are, because the ambiguity is eating away at everyone’s patience. The more the US flails, the more China, Brazil and Russia gain the upper hand on the world stage. Obama has to lead, and lead with tenacity, otherwise, what was all the fuss for?

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