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April 25, 2004 - One More Time... Why do they hate us?

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One More Time – Why do they hate us? 
Humiliation as One More Useful Diplomatic Tool



Marc Lynch is assistant professor of political science at Williams College and the author of State Interests and Public Spheres: The International Politics of Jordan's Identity - and this week he has an interesting piece on the business with our tilt toward Israel. 

That “tilt” was covered in these pages - April 18, 2004: In-Your-Face Diplomacy - last weekend. 

Lynch has a good summary in Tom Paine under the title Humiliating Our Friends. 

Here are the basics -


Two years ago, George Bush stunned and outraged virtually the entire Arab world by warmly describing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a "man of peace" at the height of the brutal Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank.  Last week, Bush did it again, endorsing Sharon’s demands to end the right of Palestinian return and legitimizing decades' worth of illegal West Bank settlements.  He did so even as Israeli assassinations of Hamas leaders and the bloody American campaign in Iraq had Arab anger at an almost unprecedented pitch.  And he did so without any coordination with moderate Arab leaders or any attempt to explain himself to Arab audiences.  When the final damage is calculated, the greatest victims of Bush’s latest episode of public non-diplomacy may well be a group which Bush himself claims to most want by his side: Arab moderates. 

The impact of the furious humiliation of Arab moderates has already begun to surface.  King Abdullah II of Jordan—probably the most friendly of all Arab leaders—postponed a scheduled meeting at the White House.  Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned that Arab views of the United States had plummeted to unprecedented depths.  Even more ominously, independent Arab moderates who had tentatively embraced Bush’s calls for democratic reform—often at great personal and political risk—spoke with one voice about their humiliation and outrage.  The Arab media now routinely equates the American occupation of Iraq with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and it has become a consensus view that America has lost all credibility in the region. 


Well, yes, things seems dismal on the diplomatic front – and we seem to have done this on purpose. 

Lynch hits on the essential irony in all this. 


While Bush has waxed eloquent over the need for democracy in the Arab world, his policies can only be described as a systematic campaign of alienating and humiliating any Arabs who attempt to speak out on behalf of the United States.  It has never been clear how the Bush administration has reconciled its rhetoric about empowering Arab publics with its policies which drive the hostility of those publics to ever greater heights.


Well, that is a puzzle. 

And it has caused trouble. 


While the furious response from Arab regimes might be dismissed as driven by their own feelings of insecurity, the lack of enthusiasm from Arab civil society reformers suggests the extent to which an association with America has become poisonous. 

The problems with Bush’s approach to democratic reform in the region run deeper than a lack of seriousness or poor execution.  The core problem lies in the administration’s clear contempt for Arab public opinion, a contempt which is keenly felt by those Arab moderates who actually share the goals of political, economic and cultural reform.  The administration is divided between hawks, who believe that Arabs respect force and can be either browbeaten into submission or else easily repressed by friendly dictators; and neoconservatives, who believe that greater democracy will naturally produce pro-American attitudes. 


Yeah, well, Lynch doesn’t get it. 

There IS a grand plan here. 

Matthew Yglesias here edges closer to seeing the grand plan. 


A lot of folks in this administration clearly just don't really believe in a democratization agenda.  To some extent, though, it's the result of conceptual confusion.  A lot of the strongest supporters of the Arab reform project on the right are also the strongest supporters of Israel.  On the plane of pure abstraction, there's a logic here: Israel is a democracy, the Palestinian authority is not, and Israel's most intransigent opponents -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Syria, Iran, etc.  -- are nothing of the sort.  So supporting Israel is pro-democracy.  And supporting Arab reform efforts is also pro-democracy.  Questionable, perhaps, but there's a real logic there. 

The trouble is that when the theory hits the desert, it all breaks down.  Those leading the charge against Israel may be anti-democratic, but you'd be very hard pressed to find an Arab anywhere -- democrat or otherwise -- filled with warm-and-fuzzy feelings toward the Jewish state in general and the Sharon government in particular.  Strong support for Sharon, then, makes it essentially impossible for would-be reformers to embrace the United States, and without American support they have little chance of being able to successfully reform their own societies.  So in the end, you have a very self-defeating set of policies. 


Self-defeating?   The president doesn’t see it that way. 

In fact, yesterday Bush addressed the press at that Associates Press luncheon and explained.  Note in this White House transcript of his speech he expected applause at one point and didn’t get any.  And then plowed on…


The long-term strategy of this government is to spread freedom around the world.  And I believe -- I told you, a free Iraq will be a major change agent for world peace.  I also believe a free Palestinian state would be a major change agent for world peace.  Ariel Sharon came to America and he stood up with me and he said, we are pulling out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank.  In my judgment, the whole world should have said, thank you, Ariel.  Now we have a chance to begin the construction of a peaceful Palestinian state. 

Yes, [ here is where there was a pause for applause – but there wasn’t any applause ] there was kind of silence, wasn't there?  Because the responsibility is hard.  It's hard to be responsible for promoting freedom and peace when you're used to something else.  If you don't have the aspirations of the people firmly embedded in your soul, it's hard to take a gamble for peace by putting the institutions of a free society in place, institutions that are bigger than the people. 


What to make of this?  Most of the world was stunned when we, as Lynch put it, endorsed Sharon’s demands to end the right of Palestinian return and legitimized decades' worth of illegal West Bank settlements.  The Arab moderates, our allies, were, as they put it, humiliated and furious.  Hey we gave them Gaza?  Bush is amazed our Arab allies, such as they are, didn’t cheer.  He thinks they just don’t get it?  It would seem so. 

One might conclude Bush and his administration are superbly detached from reality.  Or conversely, one might conclude that no one else in the whole world save Ariel Sharon has the insight and moral clarity that George Bush has.  No one is being responsible.  Take your pick. 

Back in January in Just Above Sunset you’ll find an item called In Defense of Humiliating Others - on our new diplomacy.  In it you will find a link to a piece by one of the key conservative scholars, in William Buckley's flagship magazine, which lays out a logical defense of our current policies and diplomatic methods. 

See Our Primordial World
Pride and Envy are what make this war go 'round. 
Victor Davis Hanson.  The National Review, January 16, 2004

Hanson clears up this diplomacy business -


As Mr.  Bush has grasped, every time we have humiliated our enemies we have gained respect and won security.  By the same token, on each occasion we have shown deference to a Mr.  Karzai, the Iraqi interim government, and our Eastern European friends, we have helped to create security and stability.  Apart from the model of our forefathers who crushed and then lifted up the Germans and Japanese, we could find no better guide in this war than William Tecumseh Sherman and Abraham Lincoln - in that order.  The former would remind us that our enemies traffic in pride and thus first must be disabused of it through defeat and humiliation.  The latter (who turned Sherman and Grant lose) would maintain that we are a forgiving sort, who prefer restored rather than beaten people as our friends. 


Hey, there IS a plan here.  No one is detached from reality. 

And thus, as we saw last week, it is sometimes necessary not just to humiliate your enemies – sometimes it is good to humiliate your friends and allies.  The argument is that people envy us so the logical thing to do is humiliate them, then offer friendship once they know their place. 

Some would say this is madness.  But they don’t run this country, do they? 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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