SPEAKING of Barack Obama's upbringing: eleven months ago, the then-presidential candidate told Paris Match that he wanted to convene a summit in the Muslim world to "have an honest discussion about ways to bridge the gap that grows every day between Muslims and the West." Mr Obama is sticking to the promise, and the location of the summit is being debated among his staff. The Politico found the beginnings of the plan from an early donor to Mr Obama, who heard the candidate speak at a February 2007 event.
Mr Obama told the 20 or so of us at breakfast that 'his first trip as President would be to Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim country. He then said when he got off [Air Force One], he would say "xxxxxxxx"- which we, of course, didn't understand. He said that it was Indonesian (which he speaks) for, "I am back, dudes."
Well, this sounds like a great idea. Amazing. and I'd love to see it come to fruition.
A bit of a reality check, though: who will be coming? Representatives from... Mubarak? Assad? The House of Saud? Many of the governments involved have as much trouble bridging to the Muslim world as the West. Will Ahmadinejad's goverment be represented? I guess that's a very early test of Obama's desire to reach out to Iran.
Of course, it's very possible that the summit proposed is not one of governmental origin; it could be a lot of NGOs. But many sticky wickets will be raised. Some groups which purport to represent the Muslim world will be difficult to bring to the table. Obama wants to increase ties to Iran, but Iran may be unhappy about some of the people we bring to the table. Ditto for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.
I'm still optimistic, but not to the degree that I could be. It's a good start, we're gonna get things rolling, and at least we're thinking about a crucial step. This is something that has to happen.
I just am warning that I can see a lot of blowback from various choices that Obama's going to have to make. Tough calls. There aren't going to be easy answers even at the point of announcing the guest list, let alone once the conversation starts. Obama's going to be hearing things that he's going to be asked to denounce; public pressure is going to try and push him one way and the other.
The man has serious balls, though.