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Obama's opportunity in the Middle East

To strengthen ties, he should not ask 'Why do they hate us?' but 'Why don't they believe us?'

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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?"

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