The verdict is in: Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world last
week has already had an impact, specifically in the surprise victory
Sunday of a pro-Western coalition in legislative elections in
With the unexpected defeat of Lebanon's Hizbullah-led coalition,
some regional analysts are wondering if Mr. Obama's approach - a
respectful stance towards Islam, coupled with a firm rejection of
the kind of violent extremism that has attracted some Muslims -
might also have an impact in Friday's presidential elections in
Signs of an early impact don't stop there. Consider Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hastily called policy speech this
Sunday, which some experts in Israeli affairs say would not be
happening expect for the new American president's approach to the
region - and many Israelis' attraction to it.
You might call it the Obama Effect.
"The Lebanese elections came out the way they did because of the
Obama speech," says Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of
state for Near Eastern affairs and member of the advisory council of
the Israel Policy Forum, a group that advocates for Mideast peace.
"The impact was particularly swift and strong in the Arab world."
With Obama's Cairo speech coming as it did just three days before
voting in an election the US had been closely monitoring, the
presidential discourse acted something like a campaign closer.
While other local factors were certainly at work in Lebanon, some
analysts say Obama's less aggressive stance on democracy than George
W. Bush's, along with his case for modernization of Muslim countries
through international cooperation, made a pro-Western political
perspective palatable again.
Result? A surprise win by Lebanon's pro-Western March 14
Some of these same factors are at work in Pakistan, some analysts
believe, where not just cosmopolitan Karachi businessmen but also
humble villagers in culturally traditional areas are starting to
take back ground lost to Taliban and pro-Al-Qaeda groups.
While Obama's speech was a high-profile act, some observers say
any impact it has had can only be explained in the context of other
Obama administration initiatives. Among them:
* Obama making one of his first official acts the naming of
George Mitchell as his Mideast envoy;
* The president's Nowruz (Persian New Year) message to Iranians
* The administration's quick attention to the Pakistani refugees
left homeless by fighting with advancing Taliban forces;
These factors and more laid the groundwork for Obama's words from
Cairo to fall on receptive ears. …