THE 9/11 Commission said the most important failure that allowed 19 airplane hijackers to kill nearly 3,000 people in 2001 was one of "imagination." It said the attacks shouldn't have been a surprise because Islamic extremists "had given plenty of warning that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers."
The commission concluded that to stop the growth of Islamic terrorism, the United States must "stand as an example of moral leadership in the world. To Muslim parents, terrorists like bin Laden have nothing to offer their children but visions of violence and death. America and its friends have the advantage -- our vision can offer a better future."
That is the greatest irony of the final report released yesterday. America had the advantage with its friends right after 9/11, to the degree that King Abdullah of Jordan said, standing beside President Bush on Sept. 28, 2001: "The majority of Arabs and Muslims will ban together with our colleagues all over the world to be able to put an end to this horrible scourge of international terrorism."
By invading Iraq, which had no tie to 9/11 and did not possess weapons of mass destruction, Bush threw away our moral leadership. It is easy to fear that by indiscriminately killing as many as four times more innocent civilians than who died on 9/11, we have already fueled future attacks against us.
"The good news," said Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace at the University of Maryland, "is that even today, despite the huge setback in relations, people say their opposition to the US is based on policy, not values."
Speaking in an interview yesterday, Telhami continued: "But the greater danger is, I've been to the Middle East three times in the last couple of months, and you have this fear that maybe there is a deeper anti-American feeling creeping in that may transcend the policy decisions by the Bush administration.
"It isn't there in the surveys yet, but there is something boiling. We may be close to a point where we may face something bigger than a policy resentment."
The first hints of boiling resentment were released today in a survey by Zogby International for the Arab American Institute. The survey asked 3,300 people in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates to rate their feelings toward the United States.
Since April 2002, already low favorable attitudes toward the United States have plummeted in Jordan from 34 percent to 15 percent, in Morocco from 38 percent to 11 percent, in Egypt from 15 percent to 2 percent, and in Saudi Arabia from 12 percent to 4 percent. The divide between values and policy is stunning. In Jordan, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates, between 83 and 90 percent of people look favorably upon American science and technology. In those three countries, between 61 and 73 percent of people like American products. Between 59 and 63 percent of people think favorably of American education. Between 46 percent and 58 percent think favorably of Americans themselves. Even for a region dominated by oligarchies, the American values of democracy and freedom get at least 39 percent support in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the UAE, reaching a high of 57 percent in Jordan.
But there are dramatic declines among those positive attitudes. The percentage of people who have a favorable attitude toward the American values of freedom and democracy has dropped in the last two years from 52 to 39 percent in Saudi Arabia, from 58 percent to 41 percent in Lebanon, and from 50 percent to 39 percent in the UAE.
Do not even ask about policy. In Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and the UAE, support for the US policy in Iraq is at 1 to 4 percent. Support for US policy toward Arabs is between 4 to 8 percent. Support for US policy toward Palestinians is between 3 to 9 percent. The strongest support for any US policy in the region is for the war on terrorism, but even that ranges from 3 percent in Saudi Arabia to 21 percent in Jordan.
"What you have is a collapse of trust," said Telhami, who is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "There are two keys. The first is the Arab-Israel issue. People are frustrated because Iraq was seen as unilateral and seemed to be taking away from the energies on Palestinian-Israeli front. And the way the war has been conducted -- against people with no connection to Al Qaeda -- this does nothing but play into the hands of Al Qaeda."
The 9/11 report is hot off the press, but Bush, by invading Iraq, has already blown away one of its key recommendations: He has turned Arab hearts to ice. Ice is precisely what ran in the veins of the 19 hijackers of 9/11. "If I'm Al Qaeda," Telhami said, "I'd be tickled to death."
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