Virtual Voices

Obama's peace prize two years later

Middle East

There was an audible gasp in the audience when the Nobel Peace Prize committee announced its choice for 2009. President Barack Obama had been in office less than nine months when the world was stunned by the news that he had been chosen for this most prestigious honor. The president spurned advice that he should diplomatically decline the award. But with becoming modesty, he said he would work to merit inclusion with past Nobel laureates.

That was the season of Barack Obama's Great Overture. He was going to engage in unprecedented "outreach" to what he and his advisers called "the Muslim world." In addressing the Grand National Assembly in Turkey, Obama said:

"I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam."

It's interesting that the White House website referred to the president's speech in Turkey as the "Crossroads." Uh oh. Maybe the communications director at that time, that admirer of Chairman Mao, didn't get the message: Crosses are definitely out in Turkey. In fact, when Pope Benedict XVI crossed the threshold of the Saint Sophia church. . . . Oops! Correction: When the pope entered the sanctuary of a latter-day mosque, formerly a Christian site, he was advised not to cross himself lest the pontiff provoke riots worldwide.

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After all those apologies to the Turks that Obama offered in 2009, how are things going now? Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described his country's once-warm relations with America's leading Middle East ally, Israel, as tense. He called Israel's effort to block a Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza "a cause for war." He pledged Turkey's continued support for Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza.

And Erdogan is now visiting Libya and Tunisia, centers of what the media hopefully refer to as the "Arab Spring." In Libya, meanwhile, National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Mohammed Abdul-Jalil, a former justice minister under Muammar Qaddafi's long-term dictatorship, celebrated his ex-boss' ouster in a speech to thousands of cheering, weeping Libyans in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square. After thanking NATO and the Obama administration for helping to dislodge Qaddafi, Jalil said, "We strive for a state of the law, for a state of prosperity, for a state that will have Islamic Sharia law [as] the basis of legislation." Erdogan will be able to help out with that, to be sure. And by the way, the new Libyan regime will not extradite Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber.

President Obama didn't make it to Libya or Tunisia in his apology tour, but he did address an overflow crowd at Egypt's Al-Azhar University. There, in June 2009, Obama referred to the Quran as "holy" and to Islam as having been "revealed" in the Middle East. It was surely an historic visit by an American president. None of the 42 men who occupied his office would have used those words before a Muslim audience, and surely not at Sunni Islam's oldest seat of learning.

Once again, Obama sought to make amends. How has that worked out for the United States? Hosni Mubarak was then the 30-year ruler of Egypt. He had maintained a Cold Peace with Israel for those three decades. Annual visits-deliberately kept low-key-were exchanged between top Israeli and Egyptian officials.

Mubarak was ousted last February and is now facing a death sentence in a Cairo court.

Meanwhile, last weekend, the Israeli Embassy in Egypt was invaded by a Muslim mob bearing signs "I Hate Israel " and calling for death to the Jews.

Jerusalem had to quickly extract its ambassador and embassy staff. A half-dozen Israeli security police were very nearly lynched. The Israelis called upon the United States to intervene with the transitional government in Cairo. Egyptian military stormed the embassy to snatch the Israeli security forces from the grip of the bloodthirsty mob. Egypt and Israel are now on the verge of war.

Does it seem likely that Jordan's King Abdullah II, Morocco's King Mohammed VI, or Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah will be inviting the president of the United States for a visit any time soon?

Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan broke ranks in 2008 to support Barack Obama for president. Now, with regret, she says his stewardship of the economy has failed. "He made it worse," was her terse summation of his policies. And although it seems the TV news networks have had their "Middle East Turmoil" logos painted on our screens for decades, it is undeniable that, compared with the U.S. position in that troubled region in 2009, "He made it worse."

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