It's even the President of the United States who could benefit from a bit of cramming.
Amir Taheri looks into Obama's comment about how things were better between the US and the Arab world 20 or 30 years ago. This was of course a peculiar statement, and Taheri fleshes out how so.
It is far too early days to know what the Obama administration will or won't succeed at, in the Middle East or anywhere else. So far they're engaging in cheap and painless gestures and symbolism, and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that: symbols sometimes can effect reality, especially when they nudge reality in a direction that already had potential. Nor is there anything intrinsically right with it, either: sometimes reality is immune to symbols, especially when they try to nudge reality in directions with no potential. The tricky thing is to get it right, to chose only the symbols that will be beneficial, and none that will have adverse effects.
How do you know the former from the latter? Two ways. The first, rather reliable though not foolproof, is to have the benefit of hindsight. Alas, that's not a good method for people who have to make decisions in the present. The second method to tell useful symbols from neutral ones from destructive ones, is to know a lot about the situation you're trying to impact. According to all reports Obama is an unusually intelligent man, widely read. The fact that his first pronouncement on the recent history of the Middle East could have been refuted with ease by anyone who's been reading newspapers and remembering their content for the period he's pronouncing on, is mildly worrisome.