Obama is losing a battle he doesn't know he's in
The president-elect's silence on the Gaza crisis is undermining his reputation in the Middle East
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 4 January 2009
Barack Obama's chances of making a fresh start in US relations with the Muslim world, and the Middle East in particular, appear to diminish with each new wave of Israeli attacks on Palestinian targets in Gaza. That seems hardly fair, given the president-elect does not take office until January 20. But foreign wars don't wait for Washington inaugurations.
Obama has remained wholly silent during the Gaza crisis. His aides say he is following established protocol that the US has only one president at a time. Hillary Clinton, his designated secretary of state, and Joe Biden, the vice-president-elect and foreign policy expert, have also been uncharacteristically taciturn on the subject.
But evidence is mounting that Obama is already losing ground among key Arab and Muslim audiences that cannot understand why, given his promise of change, he has not spoken out. Arab commentators and editorialists say there is growing disappointment at Obama's detachment - and that his failure to distance himself from George Bush's strongly pro-Israeli stance is encouraging the belief that he either shares Bush's bias or simply does not care.
The Al-Jazeera satellite television station recently broadcast footage of Obama on holiday in Hawaii, wearing shorts and playing golf, juxtaposed with scenes of bloodshed and mayhem in Gaza. Its report criticising "the deafening silence from the Obama team" suggested Obama is losing a battle of perceptions among Muslims that he may not realise has even begun.
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