One of President Barack Obama’s main themes has been to convince Middle Eastern Islamists and Arabs generally that America is not their enemy. But the reason this strategy never works is that the radicals, be they Islamists or nationalists, know better. They see the United States as their enemy and they are right to do so.
No amount of sympathy, empathy, economic aid, apology, or appeasement will change this fact. Nor did such efforts succeed in making either Obama or the United States popular in such circles and among the tens of millions of people influenced by them. The only thing surprising about all of this is that so few “experts” and politicians seem to comprehend it.
There are a number of reasons why this is true, though many people mistakenly think they must find just one factor that explains this reality. The causes of this enmity include:
–American policies. True, the United States has supported Israel and also many Arab regimes over the years — including countries like Morocco, Tunisia, post-Gadaffi-Libya, Egypt, pre-Hizballah Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, post-Saddam Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates. The Islamists are equally unhappy with the U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority.
In short, U.S. support for any non-radical regime makes radicals angry and will always do so.
So what if the United States is nice to radical or Islamist regimes? Will that help?
No. The radicals still keep their goals — which include throwing U.S. influence out of the region and overthrowing its allies — no matter what Washington tries to do to please them. In the context of their ideology, they interpret U.S. concessions as signs of weakness which thus invite them to become even more militant and aggressive.
In Libya and Iraq, the governments have been pretty much directly installed by America. Thus, anyone who wants to overthrow those governments has a strong vested interest in hating and attacking Americans. The assassination of the ambassador to Libya wasn’t an accident or the result of a video but the inevitable and logical outcome of the political situation there.
As for Israel, giving that country less help would not change the radical view. Only if the United States had the same policy as Hamas, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood might it be forgiven. Merely putting more space between the United States and Israel, to paraphrase Obama’s stated intention, won’t do it. Even brokering a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which isn’t going to happen of course, won’t help.
On the contrary, the radicals — especially Hamas, its Egyptian backers, Hizballah, and its Iranian backers — would go into a frenzy of denunciation and attempts to destroy the arrangements, which would be blamed on America. In the Middle East, peacemakers aren’t blessed, they’re assassinated.
The ultimate attempt to do away with these problems would be if U.S. policy would actually help Islamist regimes into power, give them money, and whitewash their extremism. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And we can all see the results have not been good, neither in terms of U.S. interests nor even in terms of U.S. popularity.
–American values and culture. While the mere fact that a highly secular, largely hedonistic, and generally free lifestyle is practiced in the United States raises the Islamists’ ire, there is far more involved here.