It’s every journalist’s dream to snag the first interview with the newly elected President. Many Americans were shocked when President Barack Obama gave his first sit-down televised interview since his inauguration Jan. 27 with al-Arabiya-based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The station is one of the leading news networks in the Middle East. Known to be a more moderate station than its competitor, al-Jazeera-who has recently lost some market share due to its sensationalized coverage of the Gaza conflict-the interview provided al-Arabiya the golden opportunity to flex its muscles. The interview, conducted by Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief for al-Arabiya, delivered a wide array of questions ranging from the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict to opening dialogue with Iran. The editorial board of The Miami Student believes that appearing on al-Arabiya was a politically advantageous move for Obama-demonstrating that the Middle East remains a top priority on the President’s agenda while also re-engaging nations that former President George W. Bush isolated.
During the interview, Obama reassured the Muslim world that America is not the enemy and the United States will “listen” rather than “dictate” to the Arab world. Unlike his predecessor who failed to communicate effectively with the Middle East, Obama has already taken the first step to confirm how he and his foreign policy will differ from George W. Bush. By appearing on al-Arabiya, instead of Western-leaning al-Jazeera, Obama also proved that he is willing to step out of his predecessor’s traditional comfort zone and into an environment with which the U.S. has maintained a generally hostile tone. While we don’t believe that this move alone will improve relations with the Muslim world, it is nonetheless an admirable first step. It will help build the foundation from which such relations can be mended. More importantly, it is a demonstration of goodwill to the Middle East. The Middle East now has a chance to establish a working relationship with the United States. Through this interview, Obama proved that he really does seek to engage a region that before had been isolated or aggressively targeted.
By making the unprecedented move of being interviewed first by an Arab news network, Obama proved to the world that he is ready to uphold his campaign promises. He still plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, continue support for Israel and focus on rebuilding the broken relationship with the Middle East. An interview will not accomplish the latter, but already it represents a noticeable divergence in Washington’s tone and attitude.