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UMaine Today Magazine

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Back to Election 2008-]

Alexander Grab, Professor of History

As a result of the war in Iraq, much of the U.S. electorate is trying to come to terms with the credibility issues of the Bush administration and the American government. For the most part, people want to believe in their government. But lies by government erodes people's confidence and makes them cynical. That cynicism undermines the entire political system, causing apathy. People wonder why they should participate in the process when they can't trust those they've chosen to lead the country.

Today, many Americans understand that the war in Iraq was based on falsehoods. The U.S. went there for the oil resources and the strategic position of Iraq. As a result, the war increased suspicions and opposition to the U.S. in the Middle East and created an unstable Iraq. The war also created an Iraqi refugee problem that burdens other societies. And, ironically, the war in Iraq strengthened Iran.

A second problem is the war in Iraq has made the American government very unpopular throughout the world. We're not just talking about the Islamic world, but also among U.S. allies and NATO countries. In poll after poll, people are expressing the opinion that they don't like and trust the American administration.

No country can operate in isolation. The United States depends economically and politically on much of the world, and we would like to have good relationships with the rest. But when people don't trust our government, it undermines any possibilities for good relationships.

In general, the American population doesn't know much about the Middle East and has prejudices against Islam and Arabs. There is ignorance about the culture, the history and problems of the region. Most people don't understand that the numerous interventions by France, Britain and the U.S. in the Middle East  throughout the twentieth century and before have led to Arab hostility and suspicion of the West's policies.

Because of all the interventions and support for dictators, there is opposition to the West. Because that hostility is not well understood, many Americans see only fanatics opposing our efforts to bring them a "great" system.

The Iraq war simply increased and strengthened the stereotypes, making it easy to bomb "the enemy."

Even Middle Easterners who support the United States understand that the U.S. is there to pursue economic, political and military interests. It is a difference between motivations and ideals.

In the past five years, more Americans have come to understand that difference because the U.S. is not "winning" the war. People were promised a quick, easy war, but expectations were not fulfilled and the costs the dead and wounded, escalating violence and expenditures continue to mount, with no end in sight, just as they did in Vietnam. It's the endlessness of war that leads people to ask and better understand.

We must rethink the Middle East and an important key is in helping solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. has to pursue in an intense, persistent way the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and  a two-state solution along the 1967 borders. If the U.S. plays a positive role in resolving this conflict that for decades has been a festering, open sore, it will see a dramatic increase in credibility among Arab and Muslim countries. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. has an opportunity to work constructively rather than as a dominating force pursuing only its interests.


UMaine Today Magazine
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