Thursday, February 22, 2007

Nobody Loves Me, It's True

One of the reasons that I opposed the invasion of Iraq was that I believed, like the editors of The American Prospect, that it would increase the hostility and animosity directed at the United States that terrorist propagandists like Osama bin Laden rely on. On occasion, when I raise this point, war supporters well say something along the lines of, "We weren't popular in that region to begin with, and no matter what we do they're not going to like us anyway."

This is true in a limited sense: no, we weren't terribly popular in the Muslim world before we invaded Iraq, and yes, there is a dedicated core of militants that will never like us. But this misses the point. As I have argued before:

For terrorists to be successful, they must have a certain level of cooperation and support from the underlying population. While we might not be able to adopt policies that are going to ingratiate ourselves to everyone everywhere, or completely eliminate anti-Americanism, that doesn't mean that we have nothing to gain by employing best practices in this regard. Even incremental shifts in the intensity of the anti-American feelings espoused by our detractors, and the size of that very detractor pool, can have a significant impact on the ability of terrorists to act - and the levels of anti-terrorist support that we receive from foreign governments and populations alike.

As David Ignatius' column highlights today, the invasion of Iraq has made things substantially worse along all of these vital fronts. As predicted by the anti-war crowd:

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. [...]

And my friend Rami Khouri, 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."

You don't have to agree with these Muslim critics to recognize that the anger they express represents a serious national security problem for the United States. That's what President Bush seems not to understand in his surge of troops into Iraq, his bromides about democracy and his strategy of confrontation with Iran. It isn't a tiny handful of people in the Arab world who oppose what America is doing. It's nearly everyone. [emphasis added]

So let me state for the record now: one of the reasons that I oppose a military confrontation with Iran (though there are many), is that such a move will further tarnish our image in the region, and further fan the flames of radicalization. Which is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing.

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