The calculations and miscalculations of "soft power" of Barack Obama in the middle East
Material posted: Publication date: 06-12-2012

The recent wave of attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in Arab countries showed how easily the radical Islamists may revive anti-American stereotypes in their strategic efforts to incite the masses of Muslims of "hostile and insidious West".

In doing so, they undoubtedly help the radicals and the fundamentalists from Christianity, and publicly burning the Quran. But in a battle of two religious fundamentalismo – Islamic and Christian – the passion and the mass on the side of the Muslims. Emotions rule the "Arab street". Covered people do not recognize legal restrictions, often demonstrate a willingness to violence and "self-sacrifice in the name of Allah".

The "Arab spring" have shaken Obama's rating

The reality is that radical Islamists, using the provocative film "Innocence of Muslims", was able (for a while) to substitute the vector of the democratic processes of the "Arab spring" vector Muslim confrontation with the USA crowds and even Muslims and Christians in a broader context. Another reality is that the United States, conducting a pragmatic policy, managed to keep their former positions in the countries of the "Arab spring", but at the same time it became clear that the "cultural-ideological efforts" of Washington in these countries do not bring the desired results. The third reality is even sadder: in the United States amplified the voices of those who believes that its policy in the middle East and, in particular, "turn toward Muslims and Islam" ("flirting with Muslims") Barack Obama has only weakened the security of American citizens. Even before the "Arab spring" thought so 46.5% of polled Americans at 20.4 percent undecided. In other words, to profound upheavals in the region, Obama's policies there was support of about a third of Americans polled.

Dynamics of growth of negative attitude of Arabs towards the United States and its policies has exceeded even the highest of the days of John. Bush. Mass protests and attacks against institutions in the Arab countries in the middle of September 2012 were in many respects only the outward manifestation of a strong enough tendency to decrease the positive perception of the United States in the region. In the first months of the Obama presidency, especially after his Cairo speech (June 2009), sympathy "Arab street" to the new head of the White house prevailed over the antipathies of the times of George W. Bush. However, during the "Arab spring" since January 2011, this preference was much less compared to dislikes.

It is noteworthy that the dynamics of the growth of negative attitudes of Arabs towards the United States and its policies has exceeded even the highest of the days of John. Bush. Thus, according to the authoritative American study by the Pew Research Center, in June 2012, is commended by the USA and its policy in the region, 48% of Lebanese (in 2008 when the Bush – 51%). In Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan these figures were also lower Bush respectively 3%, 7% and 7%. Analysts of the company "Gallup" with more data (perhaps due to differences in the methodology of the survey and General analysis): by the summer of 2012, the average approval of US policy in the Middle East and North Africa was 20%, which is 5% higher than 2008, year of the completion of the presidency of George W. Bush.

With the range of indicators for individual countries the results of studies by the Pew Research Center and "Gallup" in General is close enough. Sociologists "Gallup" confirm a declining trend of positive assessments of the actions of the Obama administration, starting with peak at 25% in 2010 (22% in 2011, in the midst of the "Arab spring") to 20% in may 2012, the Leap average, "Gallup", apparently, can explain the unprecedented in the Arab world the rise of sympathy for the U.S. among the population of Libya to 54% in January 2012, the same trend is recorded among parts of the Syrian population: the leap from 4% approve of Obama's policies before the uprising up to 24% in January 2012

In other countries, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, the level of positive assessment of the actions of the Obama administration throughout 2012 significantly decreased. This is largely due to conflicting political processes associated with the conduct of the elections and the victory of the Islamists, as well as the attempts of Islamists in power outwardly to distance themselves from the United States. We can assume that their attitude towards US, as expressed in surveys, many residents of the countries of the "Arab spring" has shown disappointment at the results of the revolutionary processes in their countries, trying to shift a large part of responsibility for the attacks on Obama administration policy. The assault on American diplomatic missions in Arab countries, though not executed by all "street", but only its radical elements and, in General, condemn the new authorities of these countries, in fact, means thorough the stalling of the American ideological concept, which is implemented in the Middle East region since 2001

The mechanisms of "soft power" of the United States in the middle East

We are talking about the concept, which was proposed by the Bush administration after the September 11 tragedy and was based on the idea of maintaining the balance between civilization East and West by combining efforts in the fight against extremists and terrorists. Basic theses of the concept of conditionally named us "image triad", were designed to prolong the effect. Basic setup of the triad are: 1) Americans are not hostile to Islam and Muslims; 2) the U.S. seeks to prevent a possible conflict of civilizations, including by increasing extremism in partnership and cooperation with the moderate forces in the region; 3) the U.S. will support its allies in the middle East. The triad was designed to affect broad segments of the Arab population, mainly through three channels – telecommunication networks, cinema and special PR events. This concept of adjusting the image of the United States in Arab countries was introduced as an important element of U.S. policy in the middle East since 2001 In 2002-2004, he started detuning of the system of cultural and ideological communications to impact on the Muslim population of the region, with funds not only the U.S. but also its allies in the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The system included electronic media – TV channels, radio stations, the Internet, which was supported by PR activities of government agencies of the USA and means of public diplomacy.

Started by the Bush administration in 2003, the military campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq needed special information and ideological justification. Recall that at that time Iraq was under UN sanctions and did not commit aggression against anyone else (as it was in January–March 1991, when a result of the attack of Iraq on Kuwait was an international operation "desert Storm"). The Iraq campaign was viewed in Washington as a preventive, as the first war of the new historical stage, marked by the entry of mankind in the period necessary power to counter the threats arising from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In other words, the war was the result of an accumulation of fears of most Americans, who painted an apocalyptic (especially after September 11), the picture hits the WMD in the hands of "unresolved Saddam", which is ready to interact with the terrorists to get revenge on America for his defeat in 1991, the Phenomenon of fear is actively fuelled by Saddam, was spreading rumors about having WMD, which, according to analysts, were meant to deter Iran's nuclear ambitions and to magnify Saddam in the Arab world.

Their attitude towards US, as expressed in surveys, many residents of the countries of the "Arab spring" has shown disappointment at the results of the revolutionary processes in their countries, trying to shift a large part of responsibility for the attacks on Obama administration policy. By the beginning of 2003 the U.S. was faced with a propaganda attack by Saddam, started to yield tangible results in the struggle for the manipulation of the mindset of the "Arab street" the U.S. is clearly losing.

The Bush administration had to deal with "managed" by the Iraqi dictator in a wave of anti-Americanism after the events of September 11 and the invasion of coalition troops led by the United States in Afghanistan. Launched by the Saddam propaganda campaign was designed to ensure the protection and survival of his regime that would automatically transformed into political and ideological defeat of the United States. Thus, branding efforts of the Bush administration unfolded against the backdrop of war in Iraq and the attempts of Saddam Hussein to win over to their side of the "Arab street" on a regional scale. President Obama was relatively more favorable conditions. His administration had the opportunity on the backdrop of the end of the war in Iraq and the withdrawal of the military contingent "turn the page" in relations with the Islamic world and to begin to "pump up" the image of the United States in a new way. This was done, primarily, by the American President. The dominant new rhetoric of the US was the thesis about common human values and the Islamic world (1, 2, 3).

Obama's team has added to its PR Toolkit intriguing new element in the course was put the personal charisma of a President named Barack Hussein (an allusion to the proximity of the head of the White house to Islam), which very successfully worked on external audiences, particularly in Arab countries. Some success there managed to ensure it is this factor: after the famous Obama's speech at Cairo University "al-Azhar" (June 2009), speech in the Turkish Parliament and the Turkish students (April 2009) on "the Arab street" talking about a possible new era in relations with America.

However, this resource was quickly exhausted as in the Arab world and in the United States: radical layers of the "Arab street" saw this "cunning craftiness" of Obama (this charge was one of the slogans of Islamic radicals in the deployment of attacks on the American Embassy). The American audience, as well as Israeli, "the proximity of Obama to Islam" began to be perceived more as a serious disadvantage than the advantage.

So, in the context of the upheavals in the Arab countries in connection with the above-mentioned film, in the midst of the presidential race in the USA, in the newspaper "The Washington Times" published a series of articles known expert Daniel pipes, President of Middle East Forum. In them the author tried to prove that "many regard President with Islam" is not a fiction but a reality [1]. In an effort to refute Obama's assertion that he "never was a Muslim", pipes insisted that Obama "was born a Muslim and got Muslim upbringing". He argued that in Islam, children of a Muslim father are automatically considered Muslims, and the name of Obama is purely Muslim – Barack Hussein. "As a child in Indonesia he was listed as a Muslim in school records, attended the lessons of the Quran in secondary school, sometimes went to the mosque, wore a sarong – clothes Indonesian Muslims learn the Koran by heart," claimed pipes [1]. A hint of overly close spiritual connection of Obama with Islam looks like dirt on the President. Anyway, "Muslim" Obama played a role, not much corrected the main task of the efforts of the administration to "fashion" line of work in the Islamic world. Thesis on winning sympathy of the "Arab street" remained the same during both administrations. Foreign policy entourage – the terms "war" under Bush or "peace" under Obama only changed the emphasis of rhetoric. In the plane of the same methodological and practical implementation remained the same logic and continuity.

Note that during the last decade, the state Department regularly summed up the preliminary results of its "cultural and ideological efforts" in the Arab countries. And, despite the traditionally strong anti-American stereotypes on the "Arab street", Washington believed that some progress had been made. In particular, it was created the core of combating anti-American informresurs: TV channels "al-Hurra" (financing from the budget of the United States) and "al-Arabiya" (with the support of US-friendly Arab corporations), "radio Sawa" and the number of publications focused on discussion of youth issues in the region (and this, note, is a very sensitive issue for a large segment of the population, one of the main claims of which against the deposed rulers was limited to the lack of perspectives and social "elevators"). All of these new channels of information, although perceived by the Arab audience with apprehension, not rejected it. This is particularly evident during the "Arab spring", when the former authorities of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya tried to strictly control or even block informresurs in their countries. For example, a quarter of the citizens of Cairo and Alexandria followed the events of the Egyptian revolution on the news, "al-Hurra".

A positive role in building a positive image of the US in the region played and the so-called "factor of Hollywood" [2]: in addition to the active participation of American kinoprobi in middle Eastern film festivals have been expanded exchange programs for Arab filmmakers, aimed at the study of American film culture, its history, artistic and moral senses [3].

It is important to stress that all the differences of approaches of the political elites in different Arab countries (e.g. Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) to USA and to Western values remains a common phenomenon in the form of a giant gap in the perception of Western elites and the "Arab street". We emphasize that in existing today in the countries of the "Arab spring" the situation is extremely difficult to register concrete results of the so-called cultural and ideological influence of the United States. It is possible to about his or a limited effect on trends. The estimate of this effect can emerge from the analysis of the following parameters: evolution towards America at the level of political elites and of the "Arab street"; the evolution of the relationship of the "Arab street" to Western values, to the phenomenon of terrorism and the war against it.

In this respect it is important to stress that all the differences of approaches of the political elites in different Arab countries (e.g. Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) to USA and to Western values remains a common phenomenon in the form of a giant gap in the perception of Western elites and the "Arab street".

The attack on the American diplomatic mission has identified the sustainability of previous trends, namely the ability of radical Islamist groups in the new conditions quickly enough to change the vector of mass perception of U.S. and Western values. And this despite the fact that improving the image of the United States on the "Arab street" and were made in the last decade the main efforts of experts in the field of information and public relations, as in relations with the Arab elite groups of the Washington problem has always been less.

However, the effect of cultural and ideological influence on the consciousness of people in the Arab countries is invariably secondary to the perception of specific U.S. actions in the middle East. The last and most often there are perceived negatively, negating the efforts of the American PR managers.

Cynosures with the "Innocence of Muslims" was a serious blow to the Obama administration in the region, since in this case not talking about any actions of Washington, which could cause migration of the mass consciousness of the "Arab street" in the negative zone. Moreover, the United States, it is fairly clearly sided with the "revolutionary masses" in the crucial moments of the Arab spring, calling the former rulers (Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, and now Assad in Syria) to resign. And yet accumulated to this point the positive image resources are unstable – the radicals were able to quickly recreate the deep anti-American sentiment in the broad masses of Muslims.

Competitors "correct" Obama

In these conditions the task "to gain the sympathy of the Arab street" (the wording of George W. Bush and Condoleezza rice) through cultural and ideological influence still remains one of the most important to U.S. foreign policy in the middle East.

The problem for Obama lies in the fact that to improve the American image among Muslims of the former methods, namely, the demonstration of large sympathies to them than to the Israelis becomes more difficult. Polls show that on this path there are more and more domestic political constraints. So, according to the poll "Gallup" American Jews showed strong support for the democratic candidate. In June 2012, 64% of voters in this electoral sector supported Obama. At the same time increases and the critical pressure on Obama from Israel, which was and remains the main strategic partner of the USA in the region.

In his speech at the session of the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2012 Obama has focused on the situation in the Middle East region. Build it around the fact of the death of the American Ambassador in Benghazi, the President assured that despite this tragedy and the growth of anti-Western sentiment in the region, "the U.S. has always supported and will support the forces of change". The opponents of the Democrats traditionally blame Obama for not carrying out proactive and reactive policy (response to the occurrence of the event), lack of cruelty towards Iran and lack of benevolence to the main U.S. ally in the region – Israel.

In particular, he strongly condemned Obama's refusal (under the pretext of dense employment) to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the framework of the session of the UN General Assembly in new York. The Republicans believe that it may be effective to bet on reform in Arab countries. According to them, initiating the so-called "Prosperity Pacts" ("the Covenant prosperity"), ie assistance programmes for the development of free enterprise and ensuring employment in the region, must become the basis for new relations between USA and Arab countries. Obama's critics claim that in middle Eastern countries, his administration failed to create and develop the image of America as a powerful and decisive powers, firm in the support of its allies and partners. Apparently, this idea had intended to base its fashion design PR Romney.

Came to power in the countries of the "Arab spring" moderate Islamists are trying to emphasize (mostly your peers) "new political course" and don't miss a chance to demonstrate their independence, above all from the USA. The atmosphere of affirmation of the new power by creating the appearance of distancing from the U.S. prevails in political circles of Egypt and Tunisia. It is about the implementation of certain PR-installations of new Arab elite by distancing from the United States.

So to talk about the success of "soft power" of Barack Obama in the middle East, at least at this stage of political transition in these countries is clearly untimely.

Inna Shumilina


1. PIPES: "His middle name is Hussein" // The Washington Times, 12.09.2012.

2. The so-called "factor of Hollywood" PR strategists of the White house was considered as one of the most important in the system of forming the image of the USA abroad in General and in the middle East in particular because of the predominant share of American products in the global film distribution. After the events of September 11, the dominant theme in various genres of American cinema was the interpretation of the tragedy, its causes and consequences, noted active penetration into the policy-making process. These questions are, respectively, imposed and live discussion on various forums. At the same time have put forward the theme of cultural interaction emerged from attempts to find ways of rapprochement of cultures in the context of contemporary challenges – they have become Central in professional discussions. However, there was increasing interest in the cinema professionals and ordinary viewers on the West and the US to Arab cinema as a kind of reflection of life and the contemporary political processes. Thus, konopelski began, in fact, one of information and image platforms.

3. For example, in January 2010, the U.S. called for filmmakers and producers from 16 countries, including the middle East, including Tunisia, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Palestinian authority and Israel. In the framework of the program of the Department of state, "the Film in the U.S." they received a detailed picture about the current trends and technological capabilities of the American film industry. The program included visits of relevant institutions in new York, Washington D.C., Austin, Jacksonville, Kansas city, Los Angeles, and the Sundance film festival in salt lake city. Program participants were introduced to different features of the process of filmmaking – from Hollywood to a small independent film studios.

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