Monday, May 11, 2009

Popularity without a purpose 

Occasionally, a newspaper or wire service writes something that is at best counterintuitive, and at worst completely upside down. For example (emphasis added):

President Barack Obama's popularity in leading Arab countries far outstrips that of the United States, suggesting he could be able to boost goodwill in the region toward his country, a survey showed on Sunday.

Huh? Call me a bonehead, but it seems that the reported divergence between President Obama's popularity among Arabs and that of the country he leads suggests exactly the opposite. Why is it not equally if not more likely that Barack Obama's popularity among Arabs is personal to him and simply will not rub off on the United States? Indeed, not myself believing that Arabs are easily fooled, I would think that is the more probable explanation, yet Reuters simply assumes that Obama's personal popularity will redound to the benefit of the United States. Of course, that is the flip side of the unproved but nevertheless received wisdom on the left -- that the personal unpopularity of George W. Bush in the Middle East hurt the United States. I have never seen anybody persuasively connect the popularity of the United States among Arabs with geopolitical advantage for the United States, and I doubt you have either, but the press is so enamoured of the idea that it assumes it will happen even in a story reporting facts to the contrary.


By Blogger John, at Mon May 11, 02:08:00 AM:

You're right, it ought to be construed as the opposite, or at least, so early on they shouldn't assume that he will be able to "boost goodwill," when America is still largely seen as the great land of sin.

I wonder if the Arab/American, Arab/Jewish, Muslim/non-Muslim conflicts/dichotomies will come to relative peace in dialog and actions during Obama's term...or if his admin will spark something off. It's still too early to tell, but my guess is on the spark something off side. I don't know that he'll be able to appease Netanyahu, while maintaining Arab expectations. At the same time, Christians may find themselves in a deeper identity 'crisis' and defining themselves in an even more isolated/embattled way should Obama continue to seemingly pay 'special' or 'elevated' attention to the Muslim world.  

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