Karen Hughes, President Bush’s newest undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and the caretaker of America’s image abroad, has her work cut out for her.
A Zogby survey of 3,900 Arabs in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates has uncovered massive distrust of U.S. motives in the Middle East.
Unkindest cut of all, Arabs would prefer that President Chirac and France lead the world rather than us, and, rather than have us as the world’s lone superpower, they would prefer the Chinese.
While Arabs are not as rabidly anti-American as in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, still, by 77 percent to 6 percent, they believe the Iraqi people are worse off today, and by four-to-one, Arabs say the U.S. invasion has increased, not decreased, terrorism.
Designed by Arab scholar Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution, the survey reveals pervasive cynicism about the stated goals of George W. Bush. When asked, “When you consider American objectives in the Middle East, what factors do you think are important to the United States?” the Arab answers came as follows:
Fully 76 percent said the Americans are there for the oil, 68 percent said to protect Israel, 63 percent to dominate the region, and 59 percent to weaken the Muslim world. Only 6 percent said we were there to protect human rights and another 6 percent said to promote democracy. Asked directly if they believe President Bush when he says democracy is our goal, two of every three Arabs, 78 percent in Egypt, said that, no, they do not believe Bush.
Asked to name the two nations that present the greatest threat to regional peace, 70 percent named Israel, 63 percent the United States, and 11 percent Britain. Only 6 percent named our bête noire Iran.
Asked to name the foreign leader they disliked most, Sharon swept top honors with 45 percent. Bush took the silver with 30 percent. No one else was close. Tony Blair came in a weak third. Only 3 percent of the Arabs detest him most.
While only 6 percent agreed with al-Qaeda’s aim to establish an Islamic state and only 7 percent approve of its methods, 20 percent admire the way al-Qaeda “stood up for Muslim causes” and 36 percent admire how it “confronts the U.S.”
Favorite news source? Sixty-five percent named Al-Jazeera either as their favorite or second favorite. What Fox News is to red-state America, Al-Jazeera is to the Arab street.
America’s standing in the Arab world could hardly be worse. And the questions the survey raises are these: Do we care? And, if we do, do not the Arabs have a point? Has not U.S. behavior in the Middle East lent credence to the view that our principal interests are Israel and oil, and, under Bush II, that we launched an invasion to dominate the region?
After all, before liberating Kuwait, Secretary of State Baker said the coming war was about “o-i-l.” And while we sent half a million troops to rescue that nation of 1.5 million, we sent none to Rwanda, where perhaps that many people were massacred.
If Kuwait did not sit on an underground sea of oil, would we have gone in? Is our military presence in the Mideast unrelated to its control of two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves?
If human rights is our goal, why have we not gone into Darfur, the real hellhole of human rights? If democracy is what we are fighting for, why did we not invade Cuba, a dictatorship, 90 miles away, far more hostile to America than Saddam’s Iraq, and where human rights have been abused for half a century? Saddam never hosted nuclear missiles targeted at U.S. cities.
And is Israel not our fair-haired boy? Though Sharon & Co. have stomped on as many UN resolutions as Saddam Hussein ever did, they have pocketed $100 billion in U.S. aid and are now asking for a $2 billion bonus this year, Katrina notwithstanding. Anyone doubt they will get it?
Though per capita income in Israel is probably 20 times that of the Palestinians, Israel gets the lion’s share of economic aid. And though they have flipped off half a dozen presidents to plant half a million settlers in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, have we ever imposed a single sanction on Israel? Has Bush ever raised his voice to Ariel Sharon? And when you listen to the talking heads and read the columns of the neocon press, is it unfair to conclude that, yes, they would like to dump over every regime that defies Bush or Sharon?
Empathy, a capacity for participating in another’s feelings or ideas, is indispensable to diplomacy. Carried too far, as it was by the Brits in the 1930s, it can lead to appeasement. But an absence of empathy can leave statesmen oblivious as to why their nation is hated, and with equally fateful consequences.