Obama gives first TV interview to Arab network

The new president didn't discuss much in the way of substantive policy differences with his predecessor, it was the symbolism that mattered -- but the right is still upset.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 27, 2009 4:40PM (EST)

How's this for a break with the Bush administration? The first formal television interview Barack Obama gave after being sworn in as president wasn't to CNN, but to Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based network that's the world's second largest Arab-language channel.

Former President Bush had himself granted an interview to the network, but the timing of Obama's appearance was an important bit of symbolism, as was the conciliatory, friendly tone he struck throughout. But the interview was mostly about that change in tone; the new president announced no real shift in policy. He emphasized that "Israel is a strong ally of the United States," for instance, and repeated campaign promises in saying, "you're going to see me following through with dealing with a drawdown of troops in Iraq."

One difference in particular was striking, however. "My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries," Obama said. "And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith -- and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers -- regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams."

Needless to say, many bloggers on the right are not happy about the interview, and are accusing the president of naivete and worse. One, Moonbattery, goes farthest, with a post that begins, "Imagine if, with WWII still raging, the liberal elite and the welfare class teamed up against normal Americans to elect someone named Adolf Hidler, who gave his first formal interview as president to a German television network. It might have gone something like Obama's interview."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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