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Obama's opportunity in the Middle East

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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.

The bad news is that he should expect cynicism; Arab leaders claim that our actions do not live up to our rhetoric. At the WEF I attended, they pointed to our use of the war on terror as an excuse to curtail civil rights and to squelch democracy in the Arab world. When Mr. Bush asserted, "Terrorist organizations … create chaos and take innocent lives in an effort to stop democracy from taking root," Arabs wondered aloud who had created chaos; who was visiting death and violence upon the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

To improve relations with the Arab world, Obama should strike a markedly different tone from Bush, who came across the WEF participants as disingenuous, biased, and arrogant.

Just days before he addressed the WEF, Bush spoke to the Israeli Knesset and extolled democracy as "the only way to guarantee the God-given rights of all people." He got a standing ovation. Then, at the WEF, he told the mostly Arab audience that Middle Eastern politics too often consists of "one leader in power and the opposition in jail." Some participants, having seen the text in advance, walked out.

Bush's remark wasn't inaccurate. But it was incomplete and, to the audience, hypocritical.

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