Opinion: An Obama Win Would Change the Middle East

With the U.S. elections at hand, a victory by John McCain seems unlikely. All of my East Coast-educated American buddies would be angry and aggrieved if McCain managed to pull off an eleventh-hour upset. Being from the Middle East—which is to say, being no fan of George W. Bush—they would expect the same from me. How could I feel otherwise about McCain, who said, after a supporter accused Barack Obama of being an Arab, "No, he's a decent man."

The truth is, most people from Morocco, where I live, haven't been following the horse race between McCain and Obama closely, and I think that's true of people elsewhere in the Middle East. If McCain wins, they will hardly notice. For them, it will be business as usual. What else would they expect from a people who not only elected W., but re-elected him? Along with my fellow Arab-Muslim citizens, I would just go on thinking that supreme power in the United States belongs to conservative WASP upper-class folks who know nothing about us yet pretend to reshape our future through friendly wars. I would shrug my shoulders, pray and move on—and blame myself for having believed in change, along with many Americans and polling institutions.

Change. What a magic word. That's what it would take—magic—for us to change the situation in which people from the Middle East have been stuck since 2003: between the Satan and the deep blue sea—between the Great Satan, who bombs and humiliates us for the sake of democracy, and the ground-winning Islamic fundamentalists who threaten to overwhelm us. (By the way, contrary to the world according to Fox News, the vast majority of us want nothing to do with these guys.)

I am a secularist journalist and longtime admirer of the values on which the United States was founded. I find the American Constitution (especially its First Amendment) so beautiful it can make me cry. Yet even so, I can't muster a good argument against those bearded guys who rail about "what America did to us." Under the George W. Bush presidency, an Arab-Islamic country was attacked for no valid reason. As a direct or indirect consequence, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were killed, and probably millions were wounded, in a tragic Catch-22 situation. American citizens didn't see many of the unbearable images of wailing mothers and angry mobs that have been broadcast every day for the past five years on Al-Jazeera and other pan-Arab channels. We did. How could we not be hypnotized by them? How could we not sympathize with them? Saddam Hussein was a vicious dictator, for sure. But the situation in Iraq and the Middle East is far worse since he was overthrown. That is largely because America's involvement in the region provided a splendid opportunity for hate groups to take root and prosper. "God damn Bush's America" became a famous slogan.

On that point, to my great sorrow, I had to back the Islamists. Eventually, I tried to counter the brainwashing and press-ganging the Islamists inflicted on my people in the name of striking back against America. It was a difficult task, believe me. A few Americans wished me luck.

This is why it is so important for me that the face of the United States changes in this election. I mean dramatically—by a clear-cut Obama victory. It would be far tougher for the Islamists to point the finger at America if it were led by a man whose middle name is Hussein. Not that they won't try anyway. As long as U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq, they will continue to condemn. But U.S. troops will back off within 16 months, as Obama has promised. (I am hoping that's not just talk.) Then the credibility of those who do the damning will fade. The battle in Afghanistan may drag on; it may escalate. But this war, unlike the one in Iraq, didn't turn the average Arab-Muslim mad. The Taliban hosted Al Qaeda, which is guilty of attacking the United States on 9/11; America hit back, and still is. It sounds perfectly fair. (If only you could get a move on, that would be cool. I mean, it's been almost seven years now.) Getting the job done—cutting down Al Qaeda and catching bin Laden—would comes as a relief for everyone, Arabs included. In our part of the world, it would empower the secular among us, helping us reverse the Islamist curse.

So, America, get out of Iraq, and allow us once again to admire your model of government. For that purpose, Obama is the man. In this respect, his black skin and his experience as a social worker in urban neighborhoods are strong advantages. This story, if well told, can resonate in the minds of the poor and the oppressed in the Arab and Muslim world—the Islamists typical constituency. And it's not the only story that should be exploited, in the case of an Obama presidency. As soon as the election is over and Fox News's malice is no longer harmful, think of resuming the story of Barack Hussein attending an Islamic school in Indonesia when he was a kid. That's terrific! Not only would the average Arab-Muslim have no reason to dislike America, but he would even claim its president.

Of course, if all this happens, there will be some disappointment ahead, for Obama won't stop being what he genuinely is: an American who cares for his country's best interests. He looks like a smart man, though—the kind who can develop an American foreign policy that is the least destructive, if not wholly beneficial. From our point of view, believe me, that would be change.

Opinion: An Obama Win Would Change the Middle East | U.S.