We are in the ditch in the Middle East. As bad as you think it is watching TV, it’s worse. It’s not just Iraq but the whole pattern of America’s dealings with the Arab world. People aren’t just angry at America — they’ve been that way to varying degrees since I first came here 27 years ago. What’s worse is that they’re giving up on us — on our ability to make good decisions, to solve problems, to play the role of honest broker.
I’ve pretty much given up on that too, if it’s any consolation.
Let’s start with some poll numbers presented at the Doha conference by Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor and a fellow of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, which co-sponsored the conference with the Qatari foreign ministry. The polling was done last year by Zogby International in six countries that are usually regarded as pro-American: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In these six “friendly” countries, only 12 percent of those surveyed expressed favorable attitudes toward the United States. America’s leaders have surpassed Israel’s as objects of anger. Asked which foreign leader they disliked most, 38 percent named George Bush; Ariel Sharon was a distant second at 11 percent; and Ehud Olmert was third with 7 percent.
The poll data show a deep suspicion of American motives: 65 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t think democracy was a real U.S. objective in the Middle East. Asked to name two countries that had the most freedom and democracy, only 14 percent said America, putting it far behind France and Germany. And remember, folks, this is coming from our friends.
During the Doha conference, speakers put into words the attitudes summarized by the poll numbers. Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a fiery Sunni preacher who appears regularly on al-Jazeera, said that America acted as if “some people were created to lead and others to be led,” and that America had “lost the trust and confidence” of Muslims. Well, okay, he’s notorious for his anti-American and anti-Israeli views. But I heard the same thing from Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, who said Arabs were “losing confidence in the U.S. role” as a peace broker.
And my friend Rami Khouri, who is one of most who is one of most balanced journalists in the Arab world, warned that a broad popular front is emerging to challenge American hegemony. Iraq “discredits what America tries to do in the Mideast,” he said. Khouri explained that Arabs admire Hezbollah because it represents “the end of docility, the end of acquiescence.”
This really is worth reading and re-reading, people. As someone who reads right-wing blogs more than any normal person should have to endure, I tend to forget that there is an objective reality out there that has nothing to do with photoshopped smoke, crescent-shaped memorials or (shudder) J-am-l H-ss–n. And in that reality, certain unpleasant things are occurring. Among them:
1.) Lots of people are dying in Iraq.
2.) Lots of people in the Arab world are sympathizing more and more with violent radicals.
3.) People whom we should be supporting- the pro-democracy student movement in Iran, for instance- are being undermined because they’re being linked to our unpopular policies.
To most people, these things are incredibly obvious. But to Wingnut Nation, these things signal that it’s only time to burrow further and further away from reality:
Anyway, let’s finish David’s column:
To get out of the ditch, America must change its Iraq policy, soon. That doesn’t mean pulling out of Iraq quickly, as many Democrats in Washington seem to favor. I found few people here who thought a quick American pullout made sense. But it does mean shifting the American focus — so that we are talking with Iraq’s neighbors and negotiating with the Iraqis on a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. Tellingly, the one American who got loud, sustained applause here was Chris Kojm, a senior adviser on the Baker-Hamilton report.
And to get back on the road, for real, America must broker a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. I winced when I heard Prime Minister Olmert say last weekend in Jerusalem that “the American and Israeli positions are totally identical” on the terms for recognizing a Palestinian unity government. The Israelis are right in insisting that Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist. But how to get there? What if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had responded: America is a mediator in this conflict. Its positions are independent of either side, and it is willing to talk to all parties to achieve peace.
I would have loved to see the looks of astonishment from the America-bashers here.
“Wouldn’t it be nice?” as the Beach Boys once sang.
Unfortunately, Bush will never negotiate with Iran or Syria (“We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it“), nor will he make any serious attempt to bring the Isrealis and the Palestinians to a settlement. This puts sane people in a very difficult position, because we don’t want to immediately pull out of Iraq and leave it in total chaos, but we also don’t want to stay there with a plan that has zero shot of working. I think setting a timetable might work, because it might get other countries in the region to realize that we’re about to leave a giant security vacuum in a very dangerous region. Who knows? General Odom had some good thoughts on this.
But none of it matters because Bush is president, and hoping that he’ll wake up one day and start doing sensible things is not a sound plan.
P.S.- If you want to read something fall-down-hilarious, I recommend this Dr. Sanity post:
In spite of the 2006 midterm elections which saw Democrats obtain a small majority in Congress, life has actually been going very badly for the left .
As the real world presses in on them, their voices have become more shrill and hysterical; their rage is escalating out of control. No longer do most of them even bother to argue their points logically; they simply loudly denounce any idea or person who threatens their ideology; or deliberately and with the ruthless finesse of all tyrants and thugs, simply attempt to suppress all dissenting opinions. (See the style of one of their heroes for an example of this)
9/11 did not wake them up; rather it forced them to openly move toward what they have supported surreptitiously all along–the elimination of free speech in the name of political correctness and multiculturalism; a dictatorship where the pseudo-intellectual, politically correct priesthood rule; and complete control over the lives of others (for their own good, of course!).
Since their objectives dovetail nicely with those of the Islamic terrorists, they have made common cause with them and have not lost many opportunities to enable and encourage them, even as they denounce America and the principles of freedom and democracy out of one side of their mouth, while remaining convinced that their actions are patriotic and are representative of “true” American values.