OFFERING A CREDIBLE ALTERNATIVE…. The Bush administration, for all its many faults, slowly and reluctantly came to realize the value of improving the United States’ reputation in the Middle East.

Their efforts, obviously, didn’t fare well, and animosity towards the U.S. grew considerably. At the same time, Bush-era scandals — the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, torture, etc. — only fueled fundraising and recruiting successes for terrorist networks like al Qaeda.

The Obama White House believes it’s already making a difference, as evidenced by yesterday’s presidential speech in Cairo.

Senior administration officials say the speech was carefully crafted to rob the Al Qaeda leader [Osama bin Laden] and his terrorist network of some of its chief recruiting totems, including fears the United States plans a permanent presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House officials say that the tide may be turning on the world’s most wanted man. “For the first time, they’re beginning to lose the propaganda war,” said a top aide traveling with Obama during his six-day mission to Europe and the Middle East. […]

Obama aides believe they can increasingly isolate bin Laden, as Obama’s personal appeal grows in the region and as he modifies or dismantles President George W. Bush’s security policies.

Another White House official argued, “A lot of their best recruiting tricks are being taken off the table.”

It’s become a regular feature of some of the president’s bigger speeches — anticipate and preempt the inevitable criticism. Stateside, this means Obama getting ahead of Republican arguments before they’re made. In the Middle East, this means Obama addressing al Qaeda’s messages, which the president knows people throughout the region will hear.

So, while al Qaeda wants Muslims to see Americans as imperialists in Afghanistan, Obama explains, “We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan…. We seek no military bases there.” The same goes for Iraq, where Obama talked not only about troop withdrawal, but the absence of permanent military bases and U.S. intentions of making “no claim on their territory or resources.”

And while al Qaeda wants to characterize violence as heroic, Obama makes a direct appeal in the opposite direction: “They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths — more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam.”

There’s a reason bin Laden and Zawahri are sounding panicky.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.