5.8 Middle Eastern views of current US administration
Finally, what are the perceptions in other parts of the world, in the Middle East and the Arab World, an area of critical importance in terms of current military commitments and the ongoing struggle against jihadist terrorism? Some information on this question emerged in a symposium on the Middle East held in Washington in 2006. Shibley Telhami, holder of the Sadat Chair at the University of Maryland and Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution, stated that:
I have been polling in six countries – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon – for the past five years with Zogby International to look at a variety of attitudes, not only attitudes toward the United States. If you ask me what has changed, I wouldn’t say that it’s the fact that many Arabs don’t like American foreign policy. Many Arabs didn’t like American foreign policy even when it was a little bit more balanced from the point of view of the Arab world.
Two things have happened over the past five years. One that we began detecting in 2000, 2001, after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians was the decline in trust in the United States. Trust is different from the question, do you like our foreign policies? Do you have confidence in the government? What we have seen is a dramatic decline in the confidence measure, particularly after the collapse of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. These continued to decline after 9/11.
Second, in the most recent survey, the United States is now seen as a primary threat. It’s not just that they don’t like America; the United States is seen as a primary threat in the Arab world by a majority of the public. In an open question that I asked – name the two countries that are the most threatening to you – the vast majority of people in every country named the United States and Israel as the two countries that are most threatening to them. Iran, you would think, would be seen as a threat, at least in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, those who identified it as a threat were is the single digits. This tells you, again, that the Iraq War has become a new prism through which Arabs are looking at the United States and the Middle East.
... I think that a lot of people have misunderstood the rise of frustration with the United States as being an endorsement of al-Qaeda’s agenda in the region. They have used all of these seeming trends – the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in the Palestinian areas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and so forth – as examples of this rising tide that endorses a pan-Islamic agenda. The evidence is not there. On the contrary, al-Qaeda has not been able to win hearts and minds. Most people have not endorsed its agenda. In fact, when asked what aspect of al-Qaeda do you sympathize with most, only 6 percent say that they sympathize with their advocacy of a puritanical Islamic state. Only 7 percent say that they sympathize with their methods. A plurality say that they like the fact that they are standing up to the United States. This is a negative, not a positive. If you look at these other Islamic groups and also at the positions of the public on social issues, you find that they are rejecting the agenda advocated by al-Qaeda, but they win by default because of the anger toward the United States.