Why Do the Arabs Continue to Disrespect the U.S.—Despite President Obama's Fawning Overtures?
Dear Friend of FLAME:
This week, the Obama administration is finalizing an aid package to forgive about $1 billion of Egypt's debt to the United States. This is in addition to the nearly $2 billion that the U.S. has annually given to Egypt for the past decade.
Egypt is the country whose president, Mohammed Morsi, after the U.S. embassy was attacked by angry protesters last week, delivered only half-hearted criticism of those responsible. President Obama was apparently so embarrassed and chagrined by Morsi's lack of support that he called him up and delivered a mild (but no doubt deeply respectful) tongue lashing.
Obama, you may remember, has given full-throated support to efforts to "democratize" the Arab Middle East. In 2009, declining to visit Israel, he flew to Egypt to give his now-infamous "New Beginning" speech in Cairo, in which he promoted a new spirit between America and Islam.
It is little noted that Obama invited the Muslim Brotherhood to the speech, which reportedly so annoyed then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, an ally, that Mubarak refused to attend. Obama later pressured Mubarak, to step down during the height of the Arab Spring.
Likewise, the U.S., through NATO, supported the Libyan revolutionaries against Moammar Kadaffi and even sent an emissary to establish relations with the Libyan National Transitional Council---a young, pro-Arab American diplomat named Christopher Stevens. You may recall that Stevens, later named Ambassador, was killed in Benghazi, Libya last week by angry rioters or al Qaeda operatives, depending on which story you read. (While the Libyan government was suitably apologetic for the incident, the killers remain at large.)
It seems that no matter what we Americans do to support the Arab people---billions of dollars in aid, massive political and military support---we still get no respect.
Now the Muslim Brotherhood is in control in Egypt, and what happens? A recent NY Times article noted that "What makes Egypt's uncertain course so vexing for the White House is that Mr. Obama, more than any other foreign leader, has sided again and again with the Arab street in Cairo, even when it meant going expressly against the wishes of traditional allies, including the Egyptian military, the Persian Gulf states and Israel."
So not only do we shower our enemies with money and honeyed words, but at the same time we "diss" our friends. Unfortunately, this strange, counter-intuitive foreign policy seems to be bearing no fruit except disdain and distrust from both sides.
Mr. Obama and his State Department seem to be missing---or denying---a huge, obvious reality: The Arab world will not be convinced to "like" America for love or money. As this week's FLAME Hotline article pointedly argues, anti-Americanism is deeply ingrained in the Arab psyche---it's become a crutch, a scapegoat for all the failures of Arab society.
Even more remarkable, this daringly outspoken analysis comes to us from Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star, published in Beirut, Lebanon.
I hope you agree that Young's article gives solid reasons why attempts to appease Arab governments, let alone the Arab street, are doomed to failure. Finally, I hope you'll take two minutes to help Israel's---and the U.S.'s---cause by passing this week's issue along to your email list. Just use the "send to a friend" button at the bottom of this email and paste in your email list, or use the buttons above to share it via social media.
Thanks for your continued support of FLAME, and thank you for your support of Israel.
Best regards and l'shanah tovah,
America just cannot be the loved one
Dozens of disappointing Pew polls later, with the United States government having earmarked vast sums of money for public diplomacy, you have to wonder whether Washington hasn't run up a blind alley in its desire to be popular among Arabs.
An obscure Israeli-American real estate developer in California uploads a video condemning the Prophet Mohammad, and mobs storm the American consulate in Benghazi, killing an ambassador. In Cairo, demonstrators attack the fortified American Embassy building. Utterly irrelevant, evidently, is the fact that Egypt has benefited from billions of dollars in American aid for over three decades, or that the U.S. helped militarily overthrow Moammar Gadhafi last year.
However, the issue here is not the ungratefulness of the Arabs. There were doubtless quite a few Egyptians and Libyans unhappy with what took place this week. There were probably many more with no opinion whatsoever, who are neither fond of America nor the contrary, largely because America is absent from their daily life.
That doesn't change the fact that anti-Americanism is more the norm than the exception in the Arab world, even if a vast majority of people never expresses that sentiment in violent ways. Yet who can deny that the mainstreaming of hostility toward America greatly facilitates the violence of minorities? At no time was this more obvious than after 9/11, whose 11th anniversary we commemorated this week, when initial shock soon made way for explanations, then implicit justifications, of the mass murder that had occurred.
It was 9/11, and the question posed at the time, "Why do they hate us," that sent American officials scurrying for remedies to that hatred. Public diplomacy was given a bureaucratic face-lift, radio and television stations were opened broadcasting in Arabic, and despite the invasion of Iraq, many thought they had discovered the best therapy in the exit of President George W. Bush and his replacement by Barack Obama, who, fortuitously, had "Hussein" as a middle name.
Well, apparently not. Whether it is Obama or Bush, the American sirens calling for more love are apparently not having their effect. There are many reasons for this, but listing them would serve only to reinforce the argument that the Americans are to blame and must, therefore, reshape their conduct to please the Arabs. The Americans are indeed to blame in many ways, just as many in the Arab world are at fault, not least for their hypocrisy when it comes to America. However, the disconnect between America and the Arabs goes beyond perceptions of mutual behavior to include more systemic problems.
It's a given that the powerful are disliked, and no country has been more powerful than the United States in recent decades. If you have the ability to change things, but no change comes, then you somehow become responsible for everything that goes wrong. The Americans were indeed the defenders of a debilitating status quo in the Middle East, but since 2011 they have been on the side of emancipatory change, despite intense uneasiness. Yet they remain perpetually disliked, with the poll figures sometimes edging up, sometimes down, but always reflecting deep ambiguity toward the superpower.
There is the Israel excuse, of course. Washington's support for Israel is the knee-jerk pretext whenever an explanation is sought for why America is loathed by Arabs. There is a great deal to censure in Washington's seemingly unquestioning devotion to Israel, frequently against America's better interests, but let's get a grip. For years numerous Arab countries have ruthlessly mistreated or manipulated the Palestinians and their cause, without provoking a discernibly negative reaction from Arab societies.
In light of this, perhaps we must seriously consider that the Arab world has so internalized its disapproval of the United States over time, integrating it perfectly into a prevailing sense of Arab misfortune and frustration, that anti-Americanism has become a constant of Arab political discourse, a crutch of sorts. That is not to say that America is blameless or the Arabs always wrong; it's to say that the positivist belief among Americans that they can be loved simply by altering their actions and manners is naively overstated.
Being loved is not nearly as important as being respected, and in that regard the United States has been riding a roller coaster. When each post-Cold War administration has cast fundamental doubt on the Middle Eastern policies of its predecessor, holding it responsible for everything that is haywire in the region, expect Arabs to enjoy those catfights, but also to see their doubts about America reinforced. The reality is that when no clear, overriding strategy exists for America's approach to the Middle East, administrations function more on the basis of domestic politics, calculations and rivalries, and these tend to be alien to the concerns of the Arab countries they influence.
Few Arabs held dear Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, but America fundamentally and advantageously overhauled its policy in the region during the 1970s under their stewardship, on the basis of a careful, long-term reading of Washington's well-being. In contrast, though George W. Bush injected democracy into America's regional perspectives, he soon recoiled on that front, before his legacy was overturned by Barack Obama, whose principal motive in the Middle East is to minimize American involvement.
The White House and the State Department would do best to save their public diplomacy funds and focus more on a redefining a lasting, bipartisan strategy toward the Middle East that can span antagonistic administrations. This has not been done in a serious way since 9/11, and it needs to be at this essential moment when Arab countries are facing momentous change. In politics, love is overrated.