Wednesday, January 28, 2009


That Barack Obama did his first Presidential interview with al-Arabiya (transcript) has attracted a lot of attention and reignited speculation about the specific site implicit in his campaign promise to give a major speech from a "Muslim capital" within the first 100 days of his Presidency. In the realm of probably useless speculation, it's worth noting that the only Muslim leader mentioned in the interview was Saudi King Abdullah in the specific context of the King Abdullah peace proposal to Israel.

As Matthew Yglesias has noted, this is the same peace offer that New York based Max Boot has ridiculed as unworkable, while Israeli President Shimon Peres says it has potential.

But anyway, it's worth paying more attention to the speech King Abdullah delivered at the Arab League summit in Kuwait a couple of weeks ago. The speech is unusual for its blunt criticism of the state of Palestinian and Arab unity and even the inevitable denunciation of Israel managed an interesting twist on the debate about proportionality --

The murderers and their accomplices have forgotten that the Torah says: “an eye for an eye”; it never says an entire city for an eye.

So don't rule out that in a Rovian gambit of taking on the opposition on their territory, Obama decides to make his big speech in Riyadh. He could then send the rightwingers crazy with speculation that he's en route to Mecca!

UPDATE: Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami interprets the interview as reassuring to Arab autocracies and claims that Obama has dumped the Bush of Arabia idea that externally imposed power can bring liberty. Ajami attributes intellectual support for the Bush idea to Sam Huntington. But here's the FT's Christopher Caldwell arguing that Huntington didn't believe that.