David Ignatius wrote a terrific op-ed piece in today's Washington Post about how America has run off the road and is now mired in a ditch in the Middle East:
"During the Doha conference, speakers put into words the attitudes summarized by the poll numbers. Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a fiery Sunni preacher who appears regularly on al-Jazeera, said that America acted as if 'some people were created to lead and others to be led,' and that America had 'lost the trust and confidence' of Muslims. Well, okay, he's notorious for his anti-American and anti-Israeli views. But I heard the same thing from Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, who said Arabs were 'losing confidence in the U.S. role' as a peace broker.
"And my friend Rami Khouri, who is one of most balanced journalists in the Arab world, warned that a broad popular front is emerging to challenge American hegemony. Iraq 'discredits what America tries to do in the Mideast,' he said. Khouri explained that Arabs admire Hezbollah because it represents 'the end of docility, the end of acquiescence.'
"You don't have to agree with these Muslim critics to recognize that the anger they express represents a serious national security problem for the United States. That's what President Bush seems not to understand in his surge of troops into Iraq, his bromides about democracy and his strategy of confrontation with Iran. It isn't a tiny handful of people in the Arab world who oppose what America is doing. It's nearly everyone.
"To get out of the ditch, America must change its Iraq policy, soon. That doesn't mean pulling out of Iraq quickly, as many Democrats in Washington seem to favor. I found few people here who thought a quick American pullout made sense. But it does mean shifting the American focus -- so that we are talking with Iraq's neighbors and negotiating with the Iraqis on a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. Tellingly, the one American who got loud, sustained applause here was Chris Kojm, a senior adviser on the Baker-Hamilton Report.
"And to get back on the road, for real, America must broker a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. I winced when I heard Prime Minister Olmert say last weekend in Jerusalem that 'the American and Israeli positions are totally identical' on the terms for recognizing a Palestinian unity government. The Israelis are right in insisting that Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist. But how to get there? What if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had responded: America is a mediator in this conflict. Its positions are independent of either side, and it is willing to talk to all parties to achieve peace."
Sadly, the US will probably have to wait for a fresh, intelligent president before any of this wisdom will ever sink in.
Ruth Gledhill has a related piece in The Times regarding anti-Americanism in the Middle East. To be sure, anti-Americanism has always been fairly high in the region since the world wars. And there are a multitude of reasons for it - Israeli ally, easy scapegoat for Middle East dictators, American foreign policy blunders, symbol of Western power, etc. However, it's quite true that George W. Bush has caused a great deal of damage to American prestige and credibility in the region, which has ironically constrained American power instead of unshackling it. Why don't the neocons get this?
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