The Real Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism

(Foreign Affairs) Barry Rubin - During the last half-century, in 11 of 12 major conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, Muslims and secular forces, or Arabs and non-Arabs, the United States has sided with the Muslim/Arab groups. American backing for Israel has been the sole significant exception to this rule, with the U.S. merely helping Israel survive efforts from Arab neighbors to remove it from the map. In 1973, the United States rescued Egypt at the end of the Arab-Israeli War by forcing a cease-fire on Israel. Washington then became Cairo's patron in the 1980s, providing it with massive arms supplies and aid while asking for little in return. The United States saved Yasser Arafat from Israel in Beirut in 1982, when Washington arranged safe passage for the Palestinian leader and pressed Tunisia to give him sanctuary, overlooking a history of Palestinian terrorism and anti-Americanism as well as the PLO's alignment with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The United States has spent blood and treasure saving Muslims in Afghanistan from the Soviets; in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from Iraq; and in Bosnia and Kosovo from Yugoslavia. It has supported Muslim Pakistan against India and Muslim Turkey against Greece. The basic reason for the prevalence of Arab anti-Americanism is that it has been such a useful tool for radical rulers, revolutionary movements, and even moderate regimes to build domestic support and pursue regional goals with no significant costs. No other peoples evinces anything like the level of anti-American sentiment that exists in the Middle East or commits acts of terrorism against the United States with popular and governmental support. It has been the perceived softness of the U.S. in recent years, rather than its bullying behavior, that has encouraged the anti-Americans to act on their beliefs. After the U.S. failed to respond aggressively to many terrorist attacks against its citizens, stood by while Americans were seized as hostages in Iran and Lebanon, let Saddam Hussein remain in power while letting the shah fall, pressured its friends and courted its enemies, and allowed its prized Arab-Israeli peace process to be destroyed, why should anyone have respected its interests or fear its wrath? Further concessions will only encourage even more contempt for the U.S. and make the anti-American campaign more attractive. If Arab anti-Americanism turns out to be grounded in domestic maneuvering rather than American misdeeds, neither launching a public relations campaign nor changing Washington's policies will affect it. Only when the systems that manufacture and encourage anti-Americanism fail will popular opinion also change.

2002-10-24 00:00:00

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