Obama's TV appearance

A very few quick notes on Obama's appearance on Arabiya TV:

- Very good on the Obama team to have made this move, which was necessary, so quickly.
- It repairs some, but only some, of the damage caused by his silence on Gaza.
- The choice of Arabiya was most probably a decision to appeal to the Saudis, have Obama underline the importance of their Arab Initiative which has been snubbed by Israel and the US under Bush.
- Nonetheless Arabiya is problematic - this is the channel dubbed Hibriya (The Hebrew One) because of its coverage of the Gaza crisis and that generally defends the views of Riyadh, Cairo and other problematic US allies. This confirms that Obama will not, like Bush since 2006, go against Egypt and Saudi on domestic issues and there won't be a rethink of the US relationship with these. But if you thought that would happen, you're stupid.
- Should Obama have gone to Jazeera instead? Perhaps not, for both domestic reasons (the criticism he would expose himself to, even if unwarranted) and because there are genuine US complaints about Jazeera. But at some later point, he should go to Jazeera - especially if it is to pitch a major conflict resolution initiative in the region. At the end of the day, despite its bias, Arabiya is the number two pan-Arab stations. (In many countries, like the rest of the world, Arabs actually watch their national TV stations most.)
- Obama's next move should be to disband al-Hurra. It's a useless waste of money.
- Obama's line that the US should "start by listening" will be taken (along with the phone calls) with enormous pleasure by Egyptian diplomats, among others, who felt that the advice of Arab allies was ignored under Bush.
- I am also disturbed at why an American president would say Israel's security is "paramount" - as in more important than anything? Why should it be? Why not say it's a "red line" in the grand old style of Arab leaders?
- What this says (as much as this kind of interview can say anything deep) is that the Obama approach compared to Bush, for now, is more active and tough on Iran, same on Israel but more involved on peace process, Forward Agenda for Freedom is dropped because conflict resolution and managing Iran is more important, and greater attention to communication issues.

The professional analysis is of course at Marc Lynch's blog, here and here. Juan Cole has the interview and transcript. Update: Another take here.

Regarding the issue of Hillary Clinton's "Israel's right to defend itself" comment, I think the US should stop using this formulation. Why not instead say, "did Hamas expect Israel to do nothing as it launched rockets?" Obviously I'd like to see some serious concern, repeatedly voiced, for the IDF's behavior in Gaza and the disproportionality of the conflict.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.