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Obama's "Reset" with Muslims: A Policy in Ruins


Prime Minister Thein Sein of Myanmar yesterday became the first leader from his country to make an official visit to the United States in nearly fifty years. In talks in the Oval Office, Sein sought to assure the President Obama that his country would continue to move forward on political reforms; the President, for his part, brought up the violence against Muslims, especially in Burma’s western Rakhine state. The seething cauldron of ethnic violence in that state and in other parts of the country has become a major complicating factor for US policy.

A hallmark of Barack Obama’s presidency was to be a reconciliation of the US and the Islamic world. It’s now clear that those hopes have been pretty comprehensively wrecked. The first blow was the administration’s failure to help the Palestinians in the first term. The  second was tepid support for the Arab spring, which many saw as too little, too late. The third was the administration’s idle hand-wringing as tens of thousands were killed in the Syrian war. And finally, the administration has lavished aid on a government in Burma that has done little to stop (and whose officials on the ground may actually have connived at) massacres of Muslims.

Americans who do not spend time in Islamic countries overseas may not realize just how powerfully the plight of the Rohingyas has gripped public opinion in countries like Turkey, Pakistan and many more. After earlier violence against Muslims in northeastern India, there is great interest in and concern about what is going on in that part of the world.

Working to improve opinions about the US across the Muslim world was and is a good idea. Given the threat of terrorism, it is a no-brainer for people who care about US foreign policy and national security. But getting this done isn’t as easy as either the Bush or the Obama administrations seem to have thought.

The policy needs to be carefully considered and managed at the very top—and not just as a warm and fuzzy Kumbaya songfest in which we all hold hands. Clarity of vision, strength of purpose, coordination of policy, and a reasonable degree of consistency are what’s needed. We aren’t there yet.

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  • Corlyss

    There’s no pivot to Asia.

    Our Russian policy is more like a joke on us.
    The “good war” in Afghanistan wasn’t fought after all and we’re injuring ourselves in our haste to exit while the administration can still pretend that that was the war they intended to fight all along.

    And the middle east which the administration regards as an expensive and unrewarding tar baby that it simply can’t shake despite its best efforts to abandon wholesale while yammering the rhetoric of thoughtful engagement simply gets worse by the nanosecond.

    Perhaps I’m being premature. There’s probably yet uncounted nations, esp. former allies, that we could tick off and turn into enemies, but I’m prepared to judge this administration as the most incompetent of the last 3 experiments with Democratic “leadership.” I just wish Americans in general valued national security and international relations as importantly as I do when it comes to picking presidents. As long as the electorate keeps experimenting with Democrats, this is the kind of result we’re going to get.

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