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And now, for the hard work

Alan Braunholtz

In a recent Associated Press story, a staffer voiced his amazement at the shock U.S. congressmen and senators showed after a briefing on how the United States and its foreign policy are viewed abroad. The staffer said something like “all you have to do is read a newspaper from Britain, Australia, France, Germany, etc., but I guess these guys don’t.” I share his amazement, but it explains a lot. Our government couldn’t care less about foreign opinion or at least not enough to read a few papers.

Does it matter? In my opinion,that’s a huge yes unless we want to become an isolated fortress in a world of resentment. Since World War II, the world viewed the U.S. mainly as a generous benefactor with the odd snafu (Central America) here and there as we overwhelmed the Soviet Union. Most of the world still likes us and regards our massive economic and military power as a big plus for the world. Our Earth’s problems from disease to global warming to democracy need U.S. involvement. But without the threat and competition of the Soviet Union, our actions are getting more and more scrutiny.

Are we still working through consensus, treating smaller nations and allies with respect and generally behaving like the world’s favorite uncle? Enlightened self-interest, self-interest or arrogant imperialism?

If people in Britain and Australia (our allies) think our major interest in Iraq is not self-defense (a stretch at best) or liberation of the oppressed Iraqi people (why them and why now?) but oil, or more accurately, a desire to have control in an area of strategic world interest, then what will people less favorably disposed to us think?

There are enough “think tank” papers written by people close to this government stating the need for the U.S. to have a greater military presence in the Middle East to lend credence to any number of conspiracy theories in imaginative foreign minds. This war needs to be perceived abroad as in the interests of the Iraqi people. I know Saddam Hussein killed more Iraqis and caused more damage to Iraq than this war, so the act of removing him could be construed as favor enough; war alone as foreign aid type thinking: “Enjoy this bomb. It cost, well, a bomb.”

Rebuilding Iraq is the right thing to do, and Iraq shouldn’t pay too much to rebuild itself. If Iraqi oil money ends up going only to U.S. companies to repair damage caused by the bombs of other U.S. companies, we’ve made a bad public relations move – effectively charging them to be bombed.

A large role for the U.N. will help here. They’ve had experience in Rwanda and Kosovo with building democracy from the ground up. Labor and community movements help here, as diverse people find they have common interests.

U.N. involvement will distance the U.S. from charges of profiteering and setting up a puppet “democracy” beholden to U.S. interests. It’ll also act as an olive branch to the diplomatic rifts caused by this war and the U.N. will help pay for the rebuilding. OK, so we’ll lose some control and maybe a few French (boo, hiss) and Russian companies may make some money. But we invaded-liberated for self-defense and to help the Iraqi people. I don’t remember anything about profits for well-connected corporations in the speeches.

This war will be with us for years, and we have to be incredibly big-minded about this if we are to have any hope of winning hearts and minds in the Arab world. To give you an idea of how this war is affecting perceptions, I’ll summarize the results of two opinion polls. The first in March 2002 found that while distrustful of U.S. policy, Arabs felt very enthusiastic about U.S. life, culture, democracy and values. They liked us, just not our policies toward the Middle East and Palestinians in particular. We should have been able to reach out to this generation. I mean, they drank Coke.

A poll in March 2003 found a large change. Most Arabs felt this war will bring less peace to the region and reduce the chance of a Palestine-Israel resolution. None believed in the “liberation of the Iraqi people” argument of ours. A large majority now held anti-American views with American products being boycotted. It looks like we’ve lost a chance to reach out to this younger Arab generation. All in a year.

Getting the Israel-Palestine peace process back on track would be a big step in Arab minds. As we give Israel one-fifth of our total foreign aid budget (close to $3 billion), we have some leverage here to get things started.

Staying the distance in rebuilding Iraq would help, too. Pity we’ve forgotten about rebuilding Afghanistan in the next budget, but what’s our word to the world compared to tax breaks on corporate dividends for our monied elite? Hopefully, Congress will be able to find the reconstruction and humanitarian aid money promised but forgotten by the White House.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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