MSNBC's Hall Frets Afghanistan Surge Hurt Obama's Image in Muslim World

Previewing President Obama's upcoming speech in Indonesia during Tuesday's 2PM ET hour on MSNBC, anchor Tamron Hall wondered if the troop surge in Afghanistan had hurt the President's image in the Muslim world: "How much of the skepticism comes from the fact that he's added more troops on the ground in Afghanistan?"

Hall asked that question of Time magazine's deputy international editor Bobby Ghosh, who agreed and even went further: "There's certainly a lot of that, the troops on the ground, the drone campaign in Pakistan, which, unfortunately, from time to time kills innocent people. That certainly gets a lot of play around the world."

At the beginning of the segment, Hall and Ghosh lamented how Obama had fallen short of the rhetoric in his 2009 speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. Hall explained: "Some say he is no better than President George W. Bush, who incurred Muslim anger over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan....that the President [Obama] has lost support with moderate Muslims since that speech."  Moments later, Ghosh observed: "Well, there is a lot of disappointment. The Cairo speech raised expectations to a very, very high level....And of course because he was coming after President Bush, there was always going to be a certain amount of expectation. In Cairo he perhaps set the bar too high."

Later, Hall questioned whether Obama could meet those expectations: "But with the challenges this president has domestically over the next two years, is it even really possible? And also, obviously, the skepticism that exists here about his ties to the Muslim community." Ghosh blamed American attitudes:

Well, it's going to be very difficult. And as we've seen here in this country, in this summer, a rising tide of Islamaphobia. Which has sort reverberated around the world. People around have paid attention when a pastor of a small church in Florida decided he wanted to burn Koran. And that changes perceptions of America. And – and so it's going to be really very hard for the President to overcome all of those, and, in addition to all of that, overcome the disappointment that has been generated by his failure, in people's perception, to deliver on his Cairo promises.

Here is a full transcript of the November 9 segment:

2:32PM ET

TAMRON HALL: President Obama is now in Indonesia, as we reported at the top of the hour, where he's hoping to improve U.S. relations with Muslims in the world's most populous Muslim nation. But his visit has prompted protests by Muslim groups. Some say he is no better than President George W. Bush, who incurred Muslim anger over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, at a news conference today in Jakarta, President Obama made these comments.

BARACK OBAMA: With respect to outreach to the Muslim world, I think that our efforts have been earnest, sustained. We don't expect that we are going to completely eliminate some of the misunderstanding that developed over a long period of time. But we do think that we're on the right path.

HALL: And joining me now to discuss this, Time magazine deputy international editor Bobby Ghosh. Bobby, thanks for joining us.

BOBBY GHOSH: Thank you, Tamron.

HALL: There are some reports that the president has lost support with moderate Muslims since that speech he gave in Cairo in 2009. What do you find here, this relationship to be, at this point?

GHOSH: Well, there is a lot of disappointment. The Cairo speech raised expectations to a very, very high level.

HALL: Too high?

GHOSH: Perhaps. And of course because he was coming after President Bush, there was always going to be a certain amount of expectation. In Cairo he perhaps set the bar too high. He has certainly not done very much in concrete terms since then to follow up on that speech. And in the Muslim world they're looking at the Middle East peace process and they find not a lot of change, from their perspective, in the American policy. They think that the Palestinian people are not getting a better break under Obama than they did against previous presidents. So they're not entirely convinced that he's following through the on the speech. So he's going to try and bring them back in with the speech, but I think he will find much more skepticism now than he did back in Cairo.

HALL: How much of the skepticism comes from the fact that he's added more troops on the ground in Afghanistan?

GHOSH: There's certainly a lot of that, the troops on the ground, the drone campaign in Pakistan, which, unfortunately, from time to time kills innocent people. That certainly gets a lot of play around the world. And the fact that no progress has been made. I mean, it's one thing to put more troops on the ground, but if you can show progress, that the lives of Afghans has improved as a result of these troops on the ground, that may convince people that it's a good idea. But when you see Afghan people complaining that things are getting worse, if you're in Indonesia, you're in Saudi Arabia, you're wondering, 'well, what was the speech in Cairo about then?'

HALL: What was it about? And can you turn words into action? Which is obviously the challenge he has here, even on domestic issues. But he says we're going to – 'we're not going to completely eliminate some of the misunderstandings and mistrusts that have developed.' Obviously that's accurate, you can't erase all things, but you can try to improve. But with the challenges this president has domestically over the next two years, is it even really possible? And also, obviously, the skepticism that exists here about his ties to the Muslim community.

GHOSH: Well, it's going to be very difficult. And as we've seen here in this country, in this summer, a rising tide of Islamaphobia. Which has sort reverberated around the world. People around have paid attention when a pastor of a small church in Florida decided he wanted to burn Koran. And that changes perceptions of America. And – and so it's going to be really very hard for the President to overcome all of those, and, in addition to all of that, overcome the disappointment that has been generated by his failure, in people's perception, to deliver on his Cairo promises.

HALL: Alright, Bobby, thank you very much. Great having you on, good to see you.

GHOSH: Thank you.

HALL: Haven't seen you in a while.
 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC