Is there a religious crusader element in the armed struggle now under way in Iraq, as some Islamists believe?
As long as such suspicions prevail, the United States is bound to face zealous opposition in the Middle East where Muslim clerics have political clout.
The Bush team would rather have us believe that U.S. involvement in Iraq is part of the "global war on terrorism" inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks, skipping past the inconvenient fact that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks but is now a seething hotbed of anti-American violence.
It's interesting that President Bush and his team never call the insurgents "Iraqis." Instead, in the White House dictionary, they are "terrorists" and "Saddam loyalists."
A senior administration official -- who asked not to be identified -- said Bush's claim that the insurgents "hate freedom is clearly based on their actions ... the killing of civilians, attempts to disrupt free elections."
As for U.S.-inflicted civilian casualties, he said the White House had no figures but that the Pentagon had a policy of seeking to avoid them in the conflict.
The war's effect on friends and enemies was studied by the Defense Science Board on Strategic Communications, a 40-member task force made up of diplomatic, military, academic and business experts, which advises the Pentagon on policy matters related to defense.
Last September the panel issued a devastating report saying that "American efforts have not only failed" in the war of ideas or the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis, "they may have achieved the opposite of what they intended."
The task force is independent and does not necessarily represent official Pentagon policy.
The panel's report said strategic communication is "a vital component of U.S. national security and must be transformed to win the war on terrorism."
"American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies," the panel said.
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Sidney Blumenthal, adviser to former President Clinton, noted in The Guardian on Dec. 2 that the 102-page report was not made public in the presidential campaign but instead was "silently slipped onto a Pentagon Web site on Thanksgiving eve." He said the report was written for internal consumption only.
A Pentagon spokesman said the White House was aware of the report.
"Muslims do not hate our freedoms, but rather they hate our policies," the report said
Among the policies that Muslims resent, it added, are what they see as "one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights" and long-standing support for what Muslims "collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states."
Furthermore, the advisory group said when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, it is seen as "no more than self-serving hypocrisy" in the United States' national interest and "patronizing ... at the expense of Muslim self-determination."
The administration got it all wrong, the report indicated, since the Arabs were not yearning to be liberated except from the authoritarian regimes that the United States is supporting.
Unfortunately, the task force said the United States has a "fundamental problem of credibility" in the Arab world. As a consequence, whatever Americans say and do gives the opposition ammunition.
"Simply there is none," the report said referring to U.S. credibility and added the "United States is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims."
It said Bush has played into the hands of the radical Jihadists by trying to tie the attacks on the World Trade Center to Iraq.
It's silly for Bush to keep saying "they hate freedom," referring to the insurgents in Iraq. It makes me think he's looking for a new rationale for the war, his earlier reasons having been discredited.
The reality is that the Iraqis hate the conquest and occupation of their country -- just as any people with pride in the world would.