Obama getting Middle East advice from non-Middle Easterners

Only in the New York Times.

This is an interesting piece about Barack Obama and his evolving views towards the Muslim world. The idea that people there will suddenly likes America after a pretty speech is delusional. For example, anti-US sentiment is strong in Egypt, as it should be, considering the Mubarak regime was backed for three decades, including by Obama until the last minute.

And note the conversations with supposedly leading foreign affairs “experts”, both of whom largely support the imperial role of the US in the world and backed the Iraq war. Fareed Zakaria assisted President Bush post 9/11 with “advice” how to manage the Middle East.

And, er, would the US President want to speak to some real experts in the Middle East itself?

For President Obama, the killing of Osama bin Laden is more than a milestone in America’s decade-long battle against terrorism. It is a chance to recast his response to the upheaval in the Arab world after a frustrating stretch in which the stalemate in Libya, the murky power struggle in Yemen and the brutal crackdown in Syria have dimmed the glow of the Egyptian revolution.

Administration officials said the president was eager to use Bin Laden’s death as a way to articulate a unified theory about the popular uprisings from Tunisia to Bahrain — movements that have common threads but also disparate features, and have often drawn sharply different responses from the United States.

The first sign of this “reset” could come as early as next week, when Mr. Obama plans to give a speech on the Middle East in which he will seek to put Bin Laden’s death in the context of the region’s broader political transformation. The message, said one of his deputy national security advisers, Benjamin J. Rhodes, will be that “Bin Laden is the past; what’s happening in the region is the future.”

“The spotlight is understandably always on whatever country things are going worst in,” Mr. Rhodes said. “What’s important is to step back and say, ”˜The trajectory of change is in the right direction.’… ”

Still, although Bin Laden’s killing may provide a rare moment of clarity, it has less obvious implications for American strategic calculations in the region. Some administration officials argue that the heavy blow to Al Qaeda gives the United States the chance to be more forward-leaning on political change because it makes Egypt, Syria and other countries less likely to tip toward Islamic extremism.

But other senior officials note that the Middle East remains a complicated place: the death of Al Qaeda’s leader does not erase the terrorist threat in Yemen, while countries like Bahrain are convulsed by sectarian rivalries that never had much to do with Bin Laden’s radical message. The White House said it was still working through the policy implications country by country.

Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, said Mr. Obama was as deeply immersed in all the Arab countries undergoing political upheaval. “The president, in each of these cases, has really been the central intellectual force in these decisions, in many cases, designing the approaches,” he said.

At night in the family residence, an adviser said, Mr. Obama often surfs the blogs of experts on Arab affairs or regional news sites to get a local flavor for events. He has sounded out prominent journalists like Fareed Zakaria of Time magazine and CNN and Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist at The New York Times, regarding their visits to the region. “He is searching for a way to pull back and weave a larger picture,” Mr. Zakaria said.

Mr. Obama has ordered staff members to study transitions in 50 to 60 countries to find precedents for those under way in Tunisia and Egypt. They have found that Egypt is analogous to South Korea, the Philippines and Chile, while a revolution in Syria might end up looking like Romania’s.

This deliberate, almost scholarly, approach is in keeping with Mr. Obama’s style, one that has frustrated people who believe he is too slow and dispassionate. But officials said it also reflected his own impatience, two years after he gave a speech in Cairo intended to mend America’s relations with the Muslim world, that many of these countries remained mired in corruption.

“The way he personally talks about corruption, he understands the frustration,” Mr. Rhodes said.

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