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Commentary

Why America Is Not Safer


     
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Favorable poll ratings in the single digits for the United States in most Arab countries worry me. Growing anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East and a Muslim world of 1.4 billion people also concerns me. Growing anger in a stalled or counterproductive U.S. public diplomacy campaign is also worrisome. Of the greatest concern, however, is that many of the foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. are major sources of this growing hatred toward the United States.

Many Americans who are specialists on the Middle East and the Islamic world have been warning of these trends for years, yet the U.S. policies that have been evident in the last few years have aggravated and exacerbated the situation. Many in the U.S. leadership have been deaf to the warnings from those experts, who have lived in the region, speak the region's languages, and understand the region's people, cultures, religions, politics and histories. Some U.S. leaders would rather listen to other "experts" who have advised the leadership to follow these dangerous and detrimental policies. We are in a much less safe position now than before those policies were implemented.

The United States was not welcomed into Iraq with flowers and singing children but almost from the start with rocket-propelled grenades, bombs and automatic weapons fire. The battles in Falluja, the standoffs in Najaf, and the nightmarish situation at the Abu Ghraib prison and possibly other prison camps have brought great enmity upon the United States from the Arab world and, indeed, the rest of the world. The initial policy to invade Iraq was ostensibly based on a threat to the U.S. by Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Iraqi connections with Al-Qaeda, and the need to oust Saddam Hussein, who was without a doubt one of the worst in the history of brutal dictators. WMD have not been found. No credible connection has been made between Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi leadership before the invasion of Iraq. But Al-Qaeda and other violent jihadi groups have been very much connected with their own jihad in Iraq after the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The monstrous tyrant Saddam Hussein is in U.S.-custody, but the situation in Iraq is seen by many Arabs to be similar in many respects to what they see as the brutal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The U.S. is seen in the Arab street as the number two, and possibly the number one, enemy of the Arabs. The US was at one time seen as a friend of the Arabs and the Muslims. The situation in Iraq is likely serving as the number one recruiting platform of jihadi groups worldwide.

Many Arabs see the policy positions of the U.S. on the Palestinian-Israeli question as becoming more anti-Arab. The recent meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush seems to have caused considerable damage to the U.S. position in the region. Unilaterally deciding to leave Gaza seemed like a good idea and possibly a way to partially relieve tensions in the territories. However, the unilateral decision to renounce the Palestinian "right of return" was a huge public relations flop in the region. The way it was handled may have caused more problems than the meeting was intended to cure. Dialogue is good, but all parties should be involved with major decisions. Respect is a big consideration for Arabs, much like it is for Americans.

The invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan was meant to purge that much-abused country of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The hornets' nest of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan has been whacked hard, with many killed. Yet many jihadis seem to have spread out in the world in less centralized and targetable cells. Whether the "war on terrorism" has increased or decreased U.S. national security is a big question mark. Osama Bin Laden is still at large. The war in Iraq took valuable resources and energies away from possibly the most important source of national insecurity-the Bin Laden brotherhood and its nebulously connected jihadi groups.

The President of Afghanistan is more like the mayor of Kabul. He controls a very small part of the country. The Taliban remain operational in the country-. They are waiting in the hills, supported and nourished by certain groups following a tribal code of duty called the Pukhtunwali. Osama Bin Laden will be enormously difficult to get because it seems he is being protected and nourished under that tribal code.

Some powerful elements in Pakistan supported and nourished the original development of the Taliban and still support them. Pakistan could be a significant source of threats to the United States in the future. Anti-American and extremist groups have done very well in recent elections.

Meanwhile, Americans are becoming more frequent targets of anger in Saudi Arabia and many other countries. Much of the anger stems from the situations in Palestine and Iraq. There is a great leap from anger to attacking, but the anger of the many spawns attacks by the few. Only a very small proportion of all Muslims would ever turn their anger into attacks. Otherwise the entire world would be a bloodbath. In sum, the U.S. should be doing much more than it is to turn that anger around.

Contrary to the prejudicial policy advice given by some, poll after poll shows that Arabs and Muslims do not dislike the U.S. for its freedoms and prosperity. It is just the opposite. They want those freedoms in their own countries, but see the U.S. supporting the dictators who oppress them. Also, they are impressed with U.S. prosperity and would like to be more prosperous themselves. A widespread belief exists in the Arab and Muslim worlds that much of the aid given by the U.S. goes to the corrupt elites and dictators of their countries.

A resolution to the situation of the Guantanamo prisoners could be a pivotal series of events in U.S.-Arab and U.S.-Islamic relations. If the inmates are seen as getting fair trials, that result could be key to getting some U.S. credibility back and lessening the hatred against the U.S.

The treatment, alleged and real, of some Arabs and Muslims in America has been another source of anger toward the U.S. The PATRIOT Act is a public diplomacy disaster. Not giving visas to Arab and Muslim students who wish to study here is one way of making more enemies and lessening the number of future leaders who may be less anti-American (and maybe possibly even pro-American). The best way for America to present some of its best sides is to have Arabs and Muslims visit and study in the country. It is also a way for Americans to understand the Arabs and Muslims better.

I can understand the tactical importance behind better security checks on visas, but there are strategic tradeoffs between increasing security through such checks on and the public diplomacy of welcoming more visitors. National security is a vital objective and goal. But the tradeoffs between national security and personal freedom of U.S. citizens and visitors need more consideration than they seem to be getting. As for enhanced security, the U.S. needs to do more to have its various intelligence and crime-stopping agencies to work together.

Are we safer? The policies of the neoconservatives and others have led us down the path toward greater, not reduced danger. Peace did not come through taking Baghdad. Al-Qaeda is now dozens of Al-Qaedas. The anger towards the U.S. in the Arab and Muslim worlds is growing by the day.

Going on TV to sell the U.S. agenda will not get very far, I am sorry to say. Decades of rebuilding trust and confidence will be required before U.S. credibility returns and the America can turn the corner in relations with Arabic and Islamic peoples. A long-term campaign to improve our relations with 1.4 billion people, one-fifth of humanity, is not a choice; it is a requirement.

God Bless America. We need such blessings to survive the likely backlash from the current counterproductive, prejudicial, dangerous, and danger-producing policies.


Paul Sullivan is a Professor of Economics at the National Defense University and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. All opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent those of the National Defense University or of any other entity of the U.S. Government.






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