To strengthen ties, he should not ask 'Why do they hate us?' but 'Why don't they believe us?'
Sen. Barack Obama is visiting with leaders in Europe and the Middle East this week to "deepen important relationships and exchange views with nations vital to the country's national security," said a spokeswoman. In short, Senator Obama will seek to repair friendships that have frayed in the past seven years.
It won't be easy, especially in the Middle East, where a thick coat of skepticism and cynicism has dulled the reflection of American aspirations.
I saw this firsthand in May, when President Bush spoke to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. He preached the virtues of democratic reform to an audience of English-speaking, pro-Western businesses; NGOs; and political leaders. The effect? More grating than gratitude.
If Obama seriously aspires to the title Leader of the Free World, he must speak with a different tone. But more important, perhaps, he must listen for a different answer.
The prevailing question Americans have been asking since 9/11 – "Why do they hate us?" – is the wrong one. The better question is, "Why don't they believe us?"
The good news is that the next president – whether Obama or Senator McCain – won't be speaking from beyond a yawning philosophical divide. When he repeats America's familiar mantra of freedom, democracy, and fighting terrorism, he will be preaching to the choir.