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The President's Speech
Arab Press Takes Obama's Speech With a Grain (or Five) of Salt

Reactions in the Arab press to President Obama’s speech illustrate the difficulties of confronting ISIS in a region skeptical of American motives and doubtful of American resolve. Here are excerpts from some of the most prominent responses (as translated by our new intern).

Writing for the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazirah (not to be confused with the Qatari satellite channel Al Jazeera), Dr. Ali al-Qarni emphasizes Saudi Arabia’s desire to confront Bashar al-Assad as well as ISIS:

It’s important for this international alliance that is taking shape to consider the removal of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has and continues to support terrorist groups in the region. The objective of the alliance should not be to defeat ISIS in Iraq, and possibly Syria, and yet retain the status quo in Syria as it is now.

He is also skeptical about the level of Western commitment, saying:

“This is what we truly fear, that Western enterprises will always be incomplete. They removed the regime of Saddam Hussein, but they created states broken up between the people of a single country. We don’t want to repeat this scenario from before…and this is what we fear from this alliance: that the Arab states did not explicitly pose significant pressure on the international alliance for defining the goals that they seek.”

In London’s Al-Hayat, which is reprinted across the Arab world, Abdul Wahab Badrakhan, a Lebanese journalist, repeats fears, shared by some prominent figures on both sides of the aisle in Washington, that the ultimate beneficiary of U.S. intervention will be Iran. This concern flared after Revolutionary Guard leader Qassem Soleimani was photographed leading Iraqi forces into battle to relieve the besieged town of Amerli:

[T]he important thing is that this battle [in Amerli] has shown what might be, or rather, what Iran sees and wants from the upcoming war. It’s reassuring that the United States (and the presumed coalition countries) have repeated and continue to repeat that they are concerned only with the air war, the provision of weapons and logistical support, without participating in the fighting aspect. But the actual path of this war depends upon the ground campaign…and Iran is the only force on the ground: politically through [Iraq’s leading Shia coalition,] the Islamic Dawa Party, and militarily backing the Iraqi army, its war planning, and intelligence apparatus….Indeed, Iran is on the ground on the other front of the war, in Syria.

The Syrian state press featured rants about how the United States protects the “Zionist entity” of Israel, as well as screeds against the Gulf sheikdoms. But it did make at least one astute point about some of our Gulf allies in the war against ISIS:

“It’s comically ironic that the “international alliance” that Obama is working to create includes countries that support worldwide terrorism. This raises a lot of questions and doubts about the seriousness of their intentions in the fight against terrorism.”

It’s important to remember that, in the Middle East’s state-controlled media environment, what is not said is just as important as what is. In that context, note that the reaction in many papers was minimal. Today, however, Arab leaders backed American proposals at a summit in Jeddah, and media in those countries may have been waiting to receive the official stance of their governments before commenting.

Even the friendlier parts of the Arab world right now embody the maxim that nations have no friends, but only interests.

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  • B-Sabre

    More than few grains…

    • Government Drone

      “Top Flake”, indeed.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The only thing these papers should be opining on is whether they and their nations agree with Obama (in yesterday’s speech) that “ISIL is not Islamic”. Little else matters.

    The Arab countries either can or cannot supervise soldiers who will fight the ISIL brand of Islam. They either do or do not believe their own governments are at risk of being destabilized by this movement. They either do or do not wish to run the risk of appearing to be allied with the USA.

    They either stand up for a sensible Islam —-OR—-they capitulate to the self-proclaimed caliphate. Most everything else is hot air.

    • ShadrachSmith

      Islam is what it is. And the Koran says what it says. You can’t have ‘sensible’ Islam. You either have Islam or you don’t.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Well, I actually agree with you that the whole of Islam is a colossal fib and an evil force.

        But, most of the billion or so adherents haven’t beheaded or stoned anyone lately and have no intention of doing so. The question is whether THEY will recapture Islam or whether they will be brought under subjection by the others. This is truly an open question, and the only one that’s going to matter much.

        Islamic citizens (anywhere) either can or cannot control the “wildfire” elements of their own faith. They either will or will not confront self-proclaimed authoritarian clerics for the sake of maintaining a semblance of modernity in their lands.

        When we speak of coalitions, who are we going to find?

        • ShadrachSmith

          That there are many muslims, does not make anything easier. The problem is what it is.

          • FriendlyGoat

            True, the fact that so many people have been fooled by Islam IS THE PROBLEM with Islam. If there were not so many of them, the whole thing could be much more easily consigned to an ash-heap with other falsehoods.

            But a billion (or so) there are. Either they want to live modern lives enough to confront their fringes, or they don’t.

            Westerners cannot do this for them. They have to muster up the sense and courage themselves—-or, they have to get local dictators again (hopefully better than their last ones). Egypt appears to be going this route with Sisi, for instance. I recently read he has a Minister of Religion in the government there who has banished thousands of the crazier clerics from preaching in the mosques of Egypt—-a form of heavy-handedness that may sound odd to us, yet be legitimately REQUIRED for the immense problems they face.

      • Thirdsyphon

        That’s like saying the Bible supports only one version of Christianity, and you can either “have” it or not. The text doesn’t change; but it can be and has been used to support a vast array of different interpretations that cover the waterfront from Pope Francis to David Koresh. ISIS isn’t the “real” Islam any more than Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is the “real” Christianity.

        • ShadrachSmith

          You are over your head. My point is completely valid. The Koran is accepted as the literal, unchangeable, direct word of God. Christianity used to do that, but hasn’t in several hundred years. We mostly accept that our text is fallible. Suggesting that the Koran is fallible will get you hung in Saudi Arabia. In fact sharia law requires it. A glaring example of what is wrong with Islam is that thinking bad thoughts about the Koran is punishable by death. Freedom of thought…punishable by death…see the political problem?

          • Thirdsyphon

            Christians no longer think that the Bible is the literal word of God? That’s news to me, and I suspect that this information will likewise come as a shock to the 45% or so of Americans who keep telling pollsters that they believe the Earth and all the species that inhabit it, including us, were created by God in their current form around 10,000 years ago.


            And yet, notwithstanding the truly depressing number of crimes for which the Biblical prescription is death, Those 45% of Americans are conspicuously not out in the streets burning witches, stoning adulterers, and ripping out blasphemers’ tongues.

            My point? Simply this: that believing (or claiming to believe) in the literal truth of a bloodthirsty-sounding religious text is not, of itself, a guarantee of violence. History proves that there’s nothing in the “source code” of either Christianity or Islam that mandates either violence or peace.

          • ShadrachSmith

            You share a flaw with climate scientists, the facts over the last couple decades seem to disprove your theory.

          • Thirdsyphon

            And you share a flaw with climate skeptics: you’re intentionally choosing your data to fit your theory, instead of the other way around.

  • Arkeygeezer

    Looks to me like the American public, our allies, and our enemies agree that the U.S. should stay out of Syria, and limit its air support to only those ground troops willing to fight ISIS.

    • Thirdsyphon

      That’s. . .actually not a terrible plan. Drawing a “bright line” between Iraq and Syria would keep America’s role in the conflict at least somewhat contained, and would mollify Putin and Assad. . . which is ironic, because it would also create a strong incentive for ISIS to pull their people and resources back into Syria, which will make them a much bigger headache for Putin and Assad.

      Conversely, if the US engages in airstrikes on both sides of the Iraq/Syria border right out of the gate, there’s no incentive for ISIS to withdraw back into Syria since they’ll be facing U.S. forces either way.

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