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Published: Monday, 10/10/2005

Anti-American views easy to understand

Karen Hughes, President Bush's confidante and newly appointed deputy secretary for public diplomacy, has just returned from a whirlwind tour of the Middle East. She went to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to explain American policies to those countries. Because her visit was based on wrong assumptions and flawed reasoning, it did not succeed.

Mr. Bush and his advisers are convinced that America is getting a bum rap for its generosity and its stated mission of spreading democracy in the Middle East. If we could only make them understand, the reasoning goes, we will be able to win the hearts and minds of those hapless Arab and Muslim people.

That most of the world disagrees with American Middle East foreign policy is well known to everyone except the policy-makers in Washington. In the past four years the gulf between Mr. Bush's understanding of the world and the indignation it creates in people around the world has been steadily widening.

Last May, in a series of special reports in the Blade, I analyzed the pervasive anti-American attitudes in Pakistan. There is a deep resentment of America at all levels of society, regardless of economic, religious, or educational background. The same is true of people in other Muslim and Arab countries as well.

Two years ago a panel chaired by Edward Djerejian, a retired American diplomat, studied anti-American attitudes around the world and determined that 80 percent of the hostility toward America is driven by American policies in the Middle East.

Ms. Hughes touted American family values. She said Mr. Bush cared about mothers, fathers, and children everywhere, especially in a future Palestinian state. That line of reasoning impressed no one. In Turkey Fatma Nevin Vargun, a Kurdish women's rights activist, told Ms. Hughes, "War makes the rights of women completely erased and poverty comes after war - and women pay the price." To that Ms. Hughes answered, "No one likes the war but to preserve the peace sometimes my country believes war is necessary."

On her trip she did not win many hearts and minds for America. What she can do however is to try to change the heart and mind of her boss about his misguided policies. Here is what she ought to tell him:

1. The world in general and the Arab and Muslim world in particular are tired of lopsided U.S. support of Israel. Unless the Palestinian issue is resolved in an equitable and fair way that creates a viable Palestinian state next door to Israel, anti-American attitudes will not go away.

2. The Arab and Muslim world considers the occupation of Iraq an act of aggression. The world knows that Iraq was occupied for two reasons: oil and Israel. Now get the United Nations to assume the responsibility for stabilizing and reconstructing Iraq and announce an exit strategy.

3. Democracy is not an exportable commodity like Hollywood films or Maytag washers. Put pressure on despotic regimes to change. If we really want to spread the seeds of democracy, we should go after China.

4. We should rethink our war against terrorism. Unless we understand the root causes of terrorism, no firepower would ever help us win this unending war.

5. We should not hold prisoners as enemy combatants in the Caribbean Gulag without charging them. It is not only bad policy, it is against the spirit and traditions of our country.

6. A great majority of Muslims may not like American policies, but they are not terrorists. .

As Mr. Djerejian said in a recent interview, "Karen understands that 'it's the policies stupid.' "



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