It has never been more important for Americans to understand why the world both hates and loves the United States. In What They Think of Us, a remarkable group of writers from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Latin America describes the world's profoundly ambivalent attitudes toward the United States--before and since 9/11.
While many people around the world continue to see the United States as a model despite the Iraq war and the war on terror, the U.S. response to 9/11 has undoubtedly intensified global anti-Americanism. What They Think of Us reveals that substantial goodwill toward America still exists, but that this sympathy is in peril--and that there is an immense gap between how Americans view their country and how it is viewed abroad.
Drawing on broad research and personal experience while avoiding anecdotalism and polemics, the writers gathered here combine political, cultural, and historical analysis to explain how people in different parts of the world see the United States. They show that not all anti-Americanism can be blamed on U.S. foreign policy. America is disliked not just for what it does but also for what it is, and perceptions of both are profoundly shaped--and sometimes warped--by the domestic realities of the countries where anti-Americanism thrives. In addition to analyzing America's battered global reputation, these writers propose ways the United States and other countries can build better relations through greater understanding and respect.
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About the Author
David Farber is Professor of History at Temple University. His books include Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam (Princeton).
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WHAT THEY THINK OF USInternational Perceptions of the United States since 9/11
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2007 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIRAQIS' BLEAK VIEWS OF THE UNITED STATES
Ibrahim Al-Marashi and Abdul Hadi al-Khalili
First, I (al-Khalili) was carjacked right in front of my home. That was terrifying enough. But then, on April 28, 2004, I was kidnapped. I was riding in a car owned by a friend. Suddenly, a late-model BMW swerved in front of us, blocking our way. Three armed men jumped out, called me by name, and demanded that I come with them. I was handcuffed and blindfolded. They moved me from one car to another and then I was imprisoned in a small house occupied, strangely enough, by a woman and her three children. The kidnappers demanded that my family pay them $500,000. My family desperately negotiated the ransom down to $30,000. They paid and I lived.
Such was life in Iraq a year after the Americans overthrew Saddam Hussein. Kidnappings, killings, and carjackings were carried out in broad daylight. These acts were perpetrated by well-equipped, professional Iraqi criminals organized into gangs. The Iraqi police were, to put it most generously, not committed to stopping this organized crime. After my ordeal, for example, not a single Iraqi official wished to enquire about the details of my kidnapping in order to catch the criminals or to gather information that might help them prevent future attacks. Many middle-class and professional Iraqis responded to this nearly unfettered criminality by fleeing the country or by greatly curtailing their activities.
Here is the tragic irony. Crimes like carjacking, murder, and kidnapping were nearly unheard of during the years of Saddam's repressive police state. The United States successfully dismantled Saddam's government but completely failed to bring a sense of law and order to the nation of Iraq. This failure was disastrous. Worse, the Americans' failure to insure domestic security for Iraqis was and is not the only problem keeping Iraqis from embracing or even accepting the United States as a true friend. Iraq and the United States (as well as Great Britain and Iraq) have an uncomfortable history that few Americans know but that few Iraqis have forgotten. To understand Americans' difficulties in convincing Iraqis that the United States can and should be their ally, some of that history has to be communicated. This historically conditioned perspective combines with the contemporary predicament to explain a great deal about what must be done if Iraqis are to perceive the United States in a more favorable light.
We aim to highlight four key phases during which Iraqis, generally but not totally, came to share strongly negative or cynical views of the United States. The first phase came right after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which was punctuated in Iraq with the Ba'ath Party takeover in 1968. Then, in 1980, Iraqis became focused on the Iran-Iraq War. As a result, the Saddam regime, which had total control of the mass media, toned down its anti-U.S. rhetoric as a means to garner American support for its war against Iran. This stage in Iraqis' perceptions of the United States ended in August 1990 when Saddam, in an attempt to stop the United States from ending the takeover of Kuwait, used his control of the mass media to focus the nation's hatred toward the United States. This era of unrelenting anti-Americanism lasted throughout the 1991 Gulf War and the twelve years of UN-imposed sanctions. The fourth phase began after the American occupation, which resulted in the emergence of an independent Iraqi media and numerous civil society organizations that tended to blast the United States for its mishandling of the occupation or for simply being an aggressive imperialist nation.
These four phases have produced, to put the matter schematically, some common Iraqi perceptions of the United States. Many Iraqis argue, sometime in only inchoate forms, that American policy in Iraq is repeating the same disastrous mistakes British imperialists made in their administration of Iraq after 1920. And a great many people have continued to believe the view of the United States spread so effectively and sometimes quite accurately by the Saddam regime that the United States is a neocolonialist, pro-"Zionist" power that wants to steal Iraq's oil resources.
The Rise of the Ba'ath and Anti-Americanism in Iraq
First, a bit of deep historical context: the modern nation of Iraq since the sixteenth century had comprised three provinces of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. British forces overran these provinces toward the end of World War I, beginning a military occupation that was met with widespread resistance among Iraq's tribes, as well as other segments of the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish communities. The events culminated in 1920 in what is referred to by the Iraqis as the "Great Revolt." Iraq gained independence in 1932. However, the ruling monarchy had signed an Anglo-Iraqi treaty that allowed Great Britain to intervene in Iraq's domestic affairs. The British interference in Iraqi affairs fiercely alienated many segments of its population. In 1958, Iraqi military officer Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew the monarchy in a military coup and ended its pro-Western stance. Qassim's government was overthrown on February 8, 1963, by elements of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and the military. However, the Ba'ath Party held power for only nine months, until they were purged from the government by factions loyal to General Abdul Salam Arif. Much of the public discourse in Iraqi circles from the 1920s to 1958 expressed hostility toward British control over Iraq's affairs.
This hostility was slowly redirected toward the Americans after the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. After Israel's lightning victory, the United States began to side far more openly with Israel, in part in an effort to confront Arab states supported by the USSR. As a result of this heavy tilt toward Israel, Iraq broke off diplomatic ties with the United States in 1967. Just a year after this war, on July 30, 1968, a second Ba'ath coup brought General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr to power. He presided as president of Iraq, and his cousin, Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti served as vice president. The basic principles of the Ba'ath Party were socialism and pan-Arab unity, and the party officially declared, with justification, that the United States opposed both of these goals.
Ba'athist hostility towards the United States became more pronounced after the 1973 October War, in which Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel in an attempt to regain lands they lost in the 1967 war. Many Arabs, including the Iraqis, blamed the United States, which supplied Israel with emergency military supplies, for the Arab defeat in this war. Thereafter, Iraqis perceived Israeli actions throughout the region as part and parcel of American "imperialism."
The official Iraqi discourse in the 1970s emphasized Iraq's policy of nonalignment while condemning U.S. imperialism and U.S. support for the "racist-Zionist entity" (i.e. Israel) or what was euphemistically referred to as the "Washington-Tel Aviv Axis." During this period, Iraqi writers regularly condemned the alleged "Zionist conspiracy" to control American foreign and domestic policy: "Since Presidential candidates in the United States know it is unthinkable to win anything without Zionist support, they have come to the natural conclusion that the more weapons they promise [Israel], the more likely they are to win elections."
In the aftermath of the 1973 October War, Arab oil-producing nations imposed an oil embargo to punish the United States and the West for supporting Israel. The Iraqis believed that the United States, in response, wanted a military base in the Middle East to attack Arab oil countries and gain a ready supply of oil. In the mid-1970s Iraqi government sources stated over and over again that American support for Kurdish rebels was aimed at gaining a military base in northern Iraq. From 1974 to 1975, the government-controlled press and government spokesmen claimed that the United States, Iran, and Israel were colluding to create the Kurdish "separatist insurrection" in Iraq. When President Carter attempted to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict in the late 1970s, Iraqis claimed that the United States was merely covering up its real intentions, to "further plunder Arab oil." When Egyptian president Anwar Sadat sought a peace treaty with Israel with American help, Iraqi officials labeled him an Arab "defeatist," unlike the Iraqis who were at the forefront of the "Arab patriotic movement."
This anti-Americanism continued after Saddam Hussein officially took power as president in July 1979.12 Hussein blasted Carter, claming that he was scheming to control Arab oil. Saddam also invoked an analogy that would be used repeatedly during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis: the Vietnam War. He argued that the United States had suffered a devastating setback after the Vietnam War and that the Americans had failed to heed the lesson of this conflict: "These were too well known lessons to be forgotten by the imperialists. However, the contemporary incumbents of the White House, State Department and the Pentagon needed a breather to absorb the shock of the Vietnam debacle. They therefore, decided to lie low for some time." The Vietnam analogy gave the Iraqis the impression that the Americans could not stomach another conflict with high casualties, a theme that would prove significant during the 1991 Gulf crisis.
An Iraqi-U.S. Rapprochement?
After the Iranian government of Shah Riza Pahlavi collapsed and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made his triumphant return to Tehran on February 1, 1979, Iraq was overjoyed. The Saddam regime perceived the shah as an American puppet in the region and, at first, welcomed the new Iranian government's anti-U.S. position. However, this relationship quickly changed, as Saddam Hussein feared that Iran's Islamic revolution could spread to Iraq.
On September 22, 1980, Iraqi aircraft attacked bases near the Iranian capital of Tehran, marking the first day of the Iran-Iraq War. In a November 1980 interview, Iraqi foreign minister Sadun Hammadi justified the attack by claiming that the United States was trying to establish a long-term friendship with Khomeini's government: "Obviously, the United States does not want the war to come to an end in such a way as to involve the settlement of the dispute in favor of Iraq." Ironically, events seven years later proved the exact opposite, as the United States intervened to end the war on terms favorable to Iraq.
As Iraq found itself on the defensive following the Iranian offensives of June 1982, the government declared that it was willing to negotiate a settlement. At this juncture, official Iraqi rhetoric against the United States was toned down, as the leadership hoped that the American superpower would intervene and end the conflict. In November 1984, the Iraqis successfully restored diplomatic relations with the United States. The United States enforced an arms embargo on Iran, but not on Iraq. The new relationship even survived the grave difficulties produced by the Reagan administration's secret supplying of arms to the Iranian government (the Iran-Contra affair) and then the Iraqis' accidental missile attack on the USS Stark that killed 37 American sailors. President Reagan chose to blame Iran for the attack, stating that it had escalated tensions in the Gulf and thus had created the context in which the tragedy occurred.
Despite occasionally condemning Iraqi military atrocities, throughout the 1982-88 period the United States shared satellite photos of Iranian troop movements with the Iraqi government. The United States, fearing that an Iranian victory would result in the spread of Khomeini's revolution through the oil-rich Gulf states, chose to treat the enemy of their primary regional enemy as its friend. The U.S.-supplied photos led to Iraqi victories on the battlefield, bringing the war to an end on terms favorable to Iraq. This U.S. covert support was known to segments of Iraqi society during the war, and it was widely reported after the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq as an example of American duplicity. Several influential Iraqis have told us in recent conversations that U.S. aid during the Iran-Iraq War convinced them at the time that the United States government supported Saddam's regime and wanted to keep Hussein in power.
Saddam's Hostility toward the United States
Official Iraqi perceptions of the United States quickly deteriorated after the Iran-Iraq War. On February 15, 1990, a U.S. Voice of America commentary broadcast in Iraq, made after Romanian dictator Ceausescu was overthrown, stated that Saddam Hussein's dictatorship would likely collapse in a similar fashion. This commentary, not surprisingly, made Saddam furious, and he and his inner circle feared that the United States was out to get them. These fears had begun to grow in the immediate aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War. Not without reason, Saddam was convinced that the United States, in collaboration with Israel, wanted to undermine Iraq's emergence as a regional power. He held such conceptions despite the fact that the United States had provided substantial economic and intelligence aid to Iraq during the war itself.
We have unusually detailed insight into Saddam's views of the United States during the key years of 1989-91 because numerous Iraqi documents were left in Kuwait after the retreat of its forces during the Gulf War. These documents reveal that Saddam and high Ba'ath Party officials believed that the Americans intended to assume the role that the British played in the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The British were perceived as acting against the Arab world, splitting it up by imposing arbitrary borders and exploiting its natural resources. In this vein, the United States was maintaining the colonial legacy of Great Britain. Given that the Soviet Union was collapsing, the Iraqis perceived that no power existed to check American designs on the Middle East.
Saddam's concerns over unchecked American power during this period compounded his profound belief in an American-led conspiracy, supported by Israel and Kuwait, to overthrow his rule. Saddam viewed the Kuwait invasion not as an offensive operation but rather as a preemptive maneuver aimed at stopping the American effort to overthrow him and gain control of Iraqi oil. A document from Saddam, issued to Iraqi military commanders in 1990, reveals his deep suspicions of U.S. aims; it asserts his belief that the United States was conspiring with Israel against Iraq. It states, "The American-Zionist union against our country means to steal the natural resources of the Arab world, under an international umbrella and the approval of the Security Council."
In the face of American belligerency in 1990 and 1991, Saddam and at least some of his loyalists laid their hopes on the "Vietnam syndrome." Saddam seemed to truly believe that the United States would quit the war if his army could inflict enough casualties on the Americans. Saddam was well aware that in 1983 the Reagan administration had withdrawn from Lebanon after incurring relatively few casualties. The following directives were sent by Saddam to the Iraqi military on the eve of Operation Desert Storm: "Try to cause many casualties and have a long war. Wait underground for the end of the air attack." While things did not go quite as Saddam had hoped during Operation Desert Storm, his perception of American resolve in the face of mass casualties was not changed, since Americans chose not to carry the war to Baghdad in order, he believed, to avoid American battlefield deaths. Essentially, Saddam continued to hold on to the Vietnam analogy from the 1970s until his last war in 2003.
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Table of Contents
Preface by David Farber xi
Iraqis' Bleak Views of the United States by Ibrahim Al-Marashi and Abdul Hadi al-Khalili 1
Beyond the Stained Glass Window: Indonesian Perceptions of the United States and the War on Terror by Melani Budianta 27
Turkish Perceptions of the United States by Nur Bilge Criss 49
Beautiful Imperialist or Warmongering Hegemon: Contemporary Chinese Views of the United States by Yufan Hao and Lin Su 74
From the Cold War to a Lukewarm Peace: Russian Views of September 11 and Beyond by Eric Shiraev and Olga Makhovskaya 95
Nuestro Once de Septiembre: The Kingdom of the Comma by Fernando Escalante-Gonzalbo and Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo 125
The Twilight of American Cultural Hegemony: A Historical Perspective on Western Europe's Distancing from America by Federico Romero 153
What People are Saying About This
These essays highlight what we have long observed from our international polling, that people do not judge us by what we say about ourselves, but by how they perceive we are threatening them. What They Think of Us is a must-read book for Ms. Karen Hughes and Co.
James J. Zogby, founder and President of the Arab American Institute
Offering a broad international perspective on anti-American attitudes, What They Think of Us is timely and provocative. It helps explain why so many educated and even democratic-minded citizens around the world have grown increasingly critical of the United States in the last decade. The essays point to the corrosive effects of American military intervention, economic expansion, and cultural insensitivity. This book allows the reader to understand, if not always sympathize with, the experiences and attitudes of people who see the world very differently from the average American.
Jeremi Suri, University of Wisconsin, Madison
This is an important and timely book. To my knowledge there is no other book that does what this one doescollect commentaries on the United States written by foreigners. It is terrifically fresh in its approach and a valuable addition to writing about the post-9/11 world.
Mark Lawrence, University of Texas, Austin