In Mideast and Europe, Obama debuts 'global populism'
The American president took his case straight to the people on his trip this week, spending limited time with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, and France.
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Some diplomats say Obama's foreign policy tactics, similar to those used in the 2008 election campaign to create an improbable and popular grass-roots movement, are so new that they defy definition at this point. While the Bush administration began a strong emphasis on public diplomacy, Obama's own biography and experience seem to allow him to connect and build bridges that reach hearts and minds among ordinary people in a new fashion. A recent poll conducted in the US and major European countries by Harris International showed that the president was the most popular Western leader, with 70-80 percent seeing him as positive. Two separate polls of Arab public opinion in late May showed him as enjoying less support, but still viewed more favorably than US policy as a whole.Skip to next paragraph
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While discretion and privacy has long been a cardinal rule of diplomacy, some specialists say the degree of antipathy built in the Muslim world for both US policy and the image of America in the past decade has reached such a low point, that a new direct "fireside chat" with the Muslim world might help relations.
In Cairo, the US president set out the scope of the challenge, but also the reason for a different tact, stating: "We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any policy debate."
Later, he offered a promise of candor, saying that "As the Holy Koran tells us, 'Be conscious of God and speak always the truth,'" adding that "That is what I will try to do today, to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart."
'If you change the psychology, policy will follow'
After the Cairo speech, the White House was criticized by some in Israel for going too far in prescriptions, and among some Muslim and Arab intellectuals for not going far enough in specific details. Obama himself stated repeatedly that "speeches are not enough" during the trip, and stressed the importance of not losing time in moving a Mideast peace effort forward.
Spokesmen for the Lebanese militant group, Hizbullah, and Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood offered skepticism, and Osama bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, flatly opposed Obama and his policies in two audio recordings that coincided with the president's trip. But Essam Derbala, a leader of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya who was imprisoned by Egypt amid the group's insurrection in the 1990s, said the US president deserved a hearing. He told Reuters: "I call on the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Al Qaeda to look at this solution and put the American side to a real test of the extent of its sincerity in achieving peace with the Muslim world."