Monday, July 19, 2004

 

Al-Qaeda's Success Story

Shibley Telhami has an op-ed in yesterday's Baltimore Sun, and elaborated further in a talk at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC, today, just how much the Iraq war has hurt the United States and aided al-Qaeda. Telhami sets out two models of al-Qaeda's goals: one in which the terror group is not particularly concerned with the foreign policy of the US, only exploiting it to motivate Muslims in the world, do damage to the US reputation internationally, and to eventually set up a puritanical, theocratic Islamic system of rule in the Muslim world; the other of which insists that al-Qaeda actually is interested in changing US foreign policy on issues that motivate Arabs and Muslims. Here Telhami, George W. Bush, and I agree that the first model is the correct one. If this is the case, then, it is nonsensical to think that addressing these foreign policy issues cited by al-Qaeda to rally Muslims against the US is in effect appeasing the terrorist group. In fact, as Telhami points out, al-Qaeda is rewarded by the US's refusal to address these issues, not the other way around. As the Bush administration has ignored the hottest button issue in the Arab and Muslim world, the Palestinian question, and instead invaded and occupied Iraq, the perception of the US in the Middle East has only suffered as al-Qaeda's has soared. Telhami's conclusion is based on a number of public opinion surveys conducted throughout the Arab world, in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.
Public opinion today in every Muslim country is far more resentful of the United States than it was three years ago.

Four years ago, over 60 percent of Saudi citizens expressed confidence in the United States. Today, less than 4 percent expressed a favorable view of the United States in a recent survey I conducted.

...

Today, an increasing number of Muslims and Arabs believe that the United States is simply aiming to attack Muslims.

In fact, in my public opinion survey (with Zogby International) last month in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, more than three-fourths of respondents said they believe that U.S. aims in Iraq were intended in part "to weaken the Muslim world."

Bin Laden is the second-most-admired leader in Egypt (after French President Jacques Chirac) and UAE (after the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser). Mr. Bush is the second-most-disliked leader in almost every one of those six countries, behind only Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Given these developments, Telhami asks: "Why would al-Qaida want to change this or seek a U.S. policy that would close the gap with the Muslim world in which al-Qaida thrives?"
There can be only two plausible aims that al-Qaida has in attacking the United States:

-To the extent that it may want to influence the November election, it would expect what our conventional wisdom would expect - that unlike the Spanish, Americans would rally behind their commander in chief. The result: widening the gap between the United States and the Muslim world.

-That, most likely, al-Qaida would continue to plan attacks on U.S. soil with little regard for the election or its outcome.

Above all, al-Qaida cannot possibly seek change in the current U.S. policy that has only widened the gap with the Muslim world.
The outlook is pretty forboding and the question, how do we reverse the trends, is not so easily answered. Still, the first and most important step in the right direction is to look at addressing those issues that motivate the support of bin Laden and al-Qaeda not as giving in or negotiating with terror, but as a way to curb anti-Americanism and hopefully deter future terrorist attacks.

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