Published on Wednesday, September 3, 2003 by Reuters
Iraq War Erodes World's Post-9/11 Sympathy for US
by Alistair Lyon
LONDON - Victim turned bully?
Changed views of the United States two years after the September 11 horrors may haunt Washington's quest for help in grappling with the bloody aftermath of the Iraq invasion.
The suicide hijack attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 produced a remarkable outpouring of sympathy for America.
Emad Shahin, a political science professor in Cairo, said Egyptians questioned whether the human suffering of September 11 justified the deaths of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis.
"After the war in Iraq, the United States looks to many like an occupying power in the region, which revives memories of European occupation in the early 20th century and further erodes any sympathy among people in the region," he said.
Disquiet among U.S. allies in Europe centers on Washington's preference for pre-emptive action, its claim to military and economic primacy and its scorn for multilateral initiatives in areas including global warming and international justice.
Britain and some other countries backed the Iraq war despite domestic critics who doubted the gravity of the threat from Saddam Hussein's still-unfound weapons of mass destruction.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may give Bush unstinting support, but American use of force has dissipated the post-September 11 solidarity felt by almost all Italians.
"Today every war is possible, at a moment's notice and everywhere, and the political objectives behind the wars are getting more and more confused and difficult to grasp," said a recent editorial in Rome's independent La Stampa daily.
TOOL OR PARTNER? The United States had made clear it would act alone on Iraq if need be, putting the onus on the U.N. Security Council to "prove its relevance" by endorsing war. The council declined.
Iraq's postwar travail has refocused debate on the limits of U.S. solo power, especially after last month's bombings of the Jordanian embassy, U.N. headquarters and a Shiite shrine. The Bush administration has now for the first time signaled interest in a U.N.-mandated multinational force.
But it will be loath to let despised opponents of the Iraq war, notably France, claim vindication for their views. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Paris wanted a genuine change of policy in Iraq before the U.S. "logic of force" triggered a spiral of confrontation and collapse.
"We must end the ambiguity, transfer responsibilities and allow the Iraqis to play the role they deserve as soon as possible," he said last week.
Bush may win public approval at home by painting the fight with Iraqi insurgents, now said to include foreign militants, as part of the "war on terror," but many in the Middle East see the U.S.-led occupation itself as the problem.
"There are grave concerns it will encourage the activities of fundamentalists in the region who blame Gulf countries for supporting the invasion," said a government official in Oman.
ROOTS OF TERROR
Long before the war, many Arabs and Muslims viewed U.S. foreign policy as an extension of Israel's. Even pro-Western Arab leaders such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak have argued that the U.S. role in Iraq will fuel terrorism, not dampen it.
Arabs fume at what they see as America's unstinting support for Israel, even as it occupies and settles Palestinian land. They resent U.S. attitudes that conflate the Palestinian struggle against occupation with global terrorism and perceived double standards toward Israeli and Palestinian violence.
"It is not Osama bin Laden, but America's arrogance and anti-Muslim policy which have given birth to terrorism," said Ahmed Suleiti, a civil engineer in Qatar, in remarks echoed widely in the region.
Yemeni political analyst Sami Ghaleb said the United States was "threatening the collective security of the world" with its support for Israeli policies and its threats to Syria and Iran. "Generally, there's admiration for the American people and the country's technological edge," said Ahmad Baghdadi, a political science professor in pro-U.S. Kuwait.
"The problem lies in U.S. policy in the Middle East and its role in the war on terrorism, which started militarily and is ending ideologically," he said, referring to U.S. pressure for political and social change in countries such as Saudi Arabia where Washington had long backed the autocratic status quo.
The United States also wins scant support in countries like Kenya and Indonesia, both targeted by terror attacks blamed on bin Laden's al Qaeda network, but which feel doubly penalized by U.S. and British advice to tourists to stay away.
"They (Americans) have to be a little more humble and realize that the world doesn't revolve around Washington D.C.," said Macharia Gaitho, an editor at Kenya's Daily Nation.
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who had backed the U.S. "war on terror," condemned the Iraq invasion, as did many in an 85 percent Muslim country where militant Islam and anger at U.S. policies in the Middle East are on the rise.
The September 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, created havoc in once-cozy ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, inflaming feelings on both sides.
"I don't like America because America doesn't like the world," said Ahmed Sultan Ghanem, a 25-year-old Saudi student.
© Reuters Limited 2003