US in Arab View
Arab News (Editorial)
April 16, 2008
The findings of a just-published American opinion poll of Arab views of the US come as no surprise. The poll indicates a massive 80 percent of Arabs distrust the US. If anything, the only surprise about the poll, carried out in a number of Arab countries by the University of Maryland and Zogby International — which also confirms a recent BBC survey on the subject — is the implicit suggestion that 20 percent of Arabs do trust the US. It is hard to find anyone here in the Kingdom at the moment who has anything good to say about the US. The anger at President George W. Bush's blundering, bloody intervention in Iraq, his persistent refusal to rein in the Israelis (especially now with Palestinian suffering greater than ever before) and his administration's total failure to understand the Middle East and the bizarre notion that American-style democracy can and should be transplanted here have pushed resentment to a peak.
We Arabs have had our fill of being treated by the US administration (and its followers in the US media) as delinquents who have to be re-educated into the ways of polite and responsible society. If the US treated its European allies with the same patronizing contempt and insistence on change, they would turn on it in fury, not just the European public, but governments as well. That Arab governments have not is proof of their reliability and loyalty. But it is hard work trying to remain friendly with a government that is so objectionable, so arrogant — and so wrong in everything it does in the Middle East.
For the Arab in the street at the moment, a distinction is still made (as seen in the poll) between the American people and the American government. The object of dislike is Bush himself and the scale of the dislike is unprecedented. It should be astonishing that the same poll found that he topped the list of world politicians Arabs disliked the most — 63 percent dislike Bush compared to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's 39 percent.
The anti-Bush juggernaut also explains the oddities in the poll — such as Arab public opposition to the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the Palestinian one of President Mahmoud Abbas, an opposition not replicated by the Lebanese and Palestinians themselves. That 30 percent of Arabs back Lebanon's Hezbollah and twice as many support Hamas as back Fatah is the Bush factor at work. Anything he supports is enough to damn it in Arab eyes. But do these anti-Bush findings indicate a state of affairs that will change once there is a new occupant of the White House? We must hope so.
Good relations with the US are important but they cannot be guaranteed. What the poll did not do is ask Arabs if they think there will be a difference if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton is elected president. The answer would probably be the hope that there would be, tempered with an expectation that nothing will change. If that is the case, it will kill off any lingering Arab affection for the US as a country.