Approach to Mideast is refreshing change


POSTED: Monday, February 02, 2009

PRESIDENT Obama's willingness in his inaugural speech to extend a hand to countries like Iran that are willing to unclench their fists has been responded to with skepticism. But the president's administration is less than two weeks old and patience may lead to the change desired.

Obama granted his first TV interview at the White House to an Arabic-language channel based in Dubai to tell the Muslim world “;that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect.”; He said he plans to “;address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital,”; although probably after the 100-day deadline he set during his campaign.

Obama also appointed George J. Mitchell as envoy to the Middle East and Richard C. Holbrooke as envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both are towering figures in the world of diplomacy and reflect the president's attention to the Middle East.

Maumoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, immediately demanded that the U.S. apologize for its “;dark background”; regarding Iran, going back to the 1953 coup that ousted an elected government and installed a shah who remained as ruler until ousted by the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But even Ahmadinejad remarked that Obama's “;slogan of change was good.”;

Indeed, Obama's approach to the Middle East is a welcome departure from eight years of the Bush administration writing off U.S. adversaries as members of an “;axis of evil.”;

Just as Obama's cordial attempt to gain Republican support of his economic-stimulus package is being roundly rejected on Capitol Hill, longtime adversaries in the Middle East will be slow to unclench their fists. That initial coolness should not cause the U.S. to return to policies that failed.