On June 4, U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Cairo's distinguished Cairo University to deliver an historic address to the Muslim world.
According to a Pew Research Center public opinion poll released this summer, the euphoria that initially accompanied his speech has mostly dissipated in the region. There is a clear improvement in public opinion of the United States in certain influential Muslim countries, including Obama's former home, Indonesia, and confidence in the president himself is high. However, Obama's personal popularity has not translated into major improvement across the board in attitudes toward the United States.
Given that it may take much longer for the administration to offer up major foreign breakthroughs that will mitigate Muslim resentment against America, the White House should consider a policy of diplomatic, economic and social engagement to protect the president's down payment with the Muslim world.
The U.S. government must undertake major reforms to fulfill Obama's outreach to the 54 states comprising the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). It would require a massive retooling of the U.S. government and a major reallocation of foreign assistance. On the diplomatic front, the United States should appoint a full-time observer to the OIC and the 22-member Arab League. In a noticeable failure for U.S. diplomacy throughout the Muslim world, there has never been a sustained U.S. diplomatic engagement with these two major organizations.
With full-time observers, U.S diplomats would accelerate dialogue and plan new engagement opportunities with Muslim states, coordinate trade and development initiatives, and more effectively communicate Muslim views back to Washington from the secretariats of each organization. Moreover, Muslim states consider the OIC and the Arab League important organizations that reflect Muslim viewpoints on crucial matters of interest to Washington, such as Middle East peace, interfaith dialogue, and intra-Muslim state relations.
Moreover, through greater involvement with the OIC, the United States could better utilize the OIC's Jerusalem Committee to consider the future status of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem in tandem with a re-energized Israeli-Palestinian negotiation track. The White House should consider approaching the OIC to convene a joint U.S.-OIC White House summit to explore ways to expand interfaith dialogue and means to empower Islamic moderates.
The president clearly intends to leverage his Cairo speech to expand U.S. trade and development ties to enable the Muslim world to compete more effectively in a globalizing world. This will require education programs, training, reform, and foreign investment. One important step would be the creation of a joint U.S.-OIC Task Force to develop a Muslim-American Entrepreneurial Development Private-Public Partnership Fund. The goal of this fund would be to help train a new generation of Muslim youth in vocational and entrepreneurial skills. So many Muslim universities educate young Muslims in the "conservative arts" and not in business and vocational skills. The fund's goals would be to initially develop entrepreneurial and vocational educational material in the languages of each Muslim nation and provide U.S. and local entrepreneurial advisors to identify new sources of business funding and vocational training opportunities.
Improving the economic climate in poorer Muslim countries will also require trade reforms to attract more foreign investment and development. Toward that objective, the U.S. Trade Representative's office should establish a Muslim world task force to expedite negotiation of U.S. trade and investment framework agreements (TIFAs) with those Muslim nations that so far have not done so (32 OIC members). TIFAs set the stage for bilateral strategic dialogue on trade and investment expansion and have been used to resolve impediments to foreign investment and facilitate the negotiation of bilateral and regional free trade agreements with Muslim countries such as Morocco, Jordan, and Bahrain. These agreements have catalyzed increases in foreign investment, job creation, and market reforms.