President Obama has more special appointees than there will be combined gold medals awarded to Canada, the United States, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Russia and Germany at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
The latest administration appointee is Rashad Hussein, an Indian-American Muslim who's just been appointed Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He's a hafiz of the Qur'an, a term reserved for a Muslim who has memorized the entire religious text.
The OIC is a 57-member pan-Islamist organization based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The OIC Web site defines its mission as "the collective voice of the Muslim world and ensuring to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world."
This announcement follows the appointment in November of Hannah Rosenthal as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism.
The president made his announcement Saturday in a videotaped message to the 7th annual US-Islamic World Forum meeting in Doha, Qatar, said to be a Davos of the Middle East. Hussein added his own perspective with a White House blog post:
As part of his commitment to continue to seek a new beginning with Muslim communities around the world, and to expand upon the partnerships he outlined in Cairo, I am honored and humbled that the President has asked me to serve as his Special Envoy to the OIC. President Obama has emphasized that progress will be judged not by our words, but our actions, and I am committed to deepening the partnerships that he outlined in his visionary address last summer. I look forward to updating you on the Administration's efforts in these areas over the coming months.
Special envoys are seen as little presents that presidents gift themselves without the Sturm und Drang of Congressional oversight and approval. They are loyalists accountable only to the president. This is not to say that they can't be effective; it's just hard to publicly monitor their effectiveness.
Mr. Hussein's appointment is designed to actualize the global goodwill that Obama's Cairo speech generated. The Cairo speech in June 2009 was a rhetorical masterpiece, but with continued civilian deaths in Afghanistan and no major movement on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Obama effect is not at the high water mark it was last summer in Egypt.
This appointment, designed to broaden outreach to Muslims, is a long overdue date for a target public that is always left wondering, like Apple and Google watchers, what's next. But will this new appointment create the same buzz?