Today President Barack Obama landed in Saudi Arabia for meetings with Prince Abdullah, in advance of his big Middle East speech in Cairo. As he was preparing to meet with the prince to talk about the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict, Al Jazeera aired a comment by al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden:
"Obama and his administration have planted seeds for hatred and revenge against America"
Bin Laden compared Obama to his predecessor, George Bush. Given that nobody in the U.S. wants to make Osama happy, the statement amounts to an endorsement of Obama's attempts to convince the Middle East that America is not only paying attention to and interested in peace, but firmly invested in it.
Before landing in Saudi Arabia, Obama told the BBC and NPR that during his trip he plans to focus on convincing Iran to set aside its nuclear ambitions, convincing Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and convincing Israel to stop behavior that impedes the progress toward a two-state solution. “Part of being a good friend is being honest,” he explained. “And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests." Freezing Israeli settlements in Palestinian Authority territory "is a part of" necessary negotiations for peace, he said.
Obama also found time to give a phone interview to Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who took the opportunity to tell the president his favorite Middle East joke. Obama reciprocated with a "joke" of his own, explaining that around the White House, they like to say that "We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East." Obama plans to encourage players in the Middle East to "Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly."
Of course, that won't be easy. Analysts point out that it's unlikely that one country will break away from the others in reaching out to Israel, and as a group they feel they've made enough concessions for now. “What do you expect the Arabs to give without getting anything in advance, if Israel is still hesitating to accept the idea of two states in itself?” Saudi historian Mohammad Abdullah al-Zulfa told the Times.
Meanwhile, back home, Matt Drudge is exercising his own sense of humor by blaring a banner headline distorting an ABC News report about the Obama administration's trumpeting of the president's exposure to Islam throughout his life. "The President himself experienced Islam on three continents," a deputy national security adviser told reporters on a conference call the other day. "You know, growing up in Indonesia, having a Muslim father — obviously Muslim Americans (are) a key part of Illinois and Chicago." This, for Drudge, turned into: "THE EMERGENCE OF OBAMA'S MUSLIM ROOTS." The headline was accompanied by a picture of an Arab man holding what appears to be a mock-gold Egyptian stele that reads: "OBAMA: The New Tutankhamen of the World."