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
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
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.