The Arabiya interview had some troubling aspects, an undercurrent of hardness running through the feel-good rhetoric, the mailed fist beneath the velvet glove — Justin Raimondo, Antiwar.com, in “The Mailed Fist and the Velvet Glove.”
Raimondo’s piece today puts words to those wary (weary?) feelings I experienced watching what is being hailed as Obama’s break-through interview with Al-Arabiya television (the original investors at the network’s 2003 debut hail from those freedom loving oil-rich Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It would have been more impressive if Obama had reached out to Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya’s rival and widely considered the first choice of “the Arab street,” but that’s another story.)
There is nothing wrong strategically with having a mailed fist under the velvet glove, but it’s helpful to know who might be on the receiving end. As Raimondo and others not undone by the vapors point out, Obama’s Muslim outreach came within days of the hellfire strikes that wiped out alleged insurgents and civilians in two Pakistani villages Friday. Just like Bush never left.
When Juan Cole — a liberal, self-described card-carrying Democratic professor of Middle East studies — had the temerity to speak out about the strikes he found out fast that even liberals guzzling the newer, sweeter Kool-Aid get Hawaiian Punchy. When he questioned in a thorough, altogether sober Salon.com article whether Pakistan might turn into “Obama’s Vietnam,” liberal talker Taylor Marsh accused him of hyperbole and of giving comfort to the enemy (Sean Hannity). As many on these and other conservative pages have already found out the hard way, the trip off the reservation can be a cruel and lonely journey. One of the few comforts is knowing that once Democrats start demanding the goose step they put their own demise into motion. Just ask the ghosts of Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich, who’s ego is still haunting but hardly impacting anything in Washington these days.
Obama made this point in his interview : his administration’s actions will speak louder than his words. And he spared everyone the gratuitous chant of freedom, liberty and democracy so abused by the former administration and wielded like a battleax by Madame Karen Hughes on her legendary listening tour through the Muslim World. Yes, actions are everything, and the sound of missiles and the cries of orphaned children will pierce through any message of R-E-S-P-E-C-T no matter how charming the messenger. It would seem that Obama is on the verge of telling us something important — how he is going to approach the quagmire that Afghanistan has become under the Bush Doctrine (Bush holdover Sec Def Gates gave some interesting hints yesterday) and whether he is really willing to change the American relationship with the Muslim world through policy and diplomacy and not just sunshiney talk. So far, his unwillingness to question possible warcrimes and the suffering in Gaza has not been lost on Arab opinionmakers. But we are listening. The proof will be in the punch, mailed fist and all.