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By Rebuilding a Free Iraq U.S. Hopes to Counter Growing Anti-Americanism - 2003-04-09


“It seems to me that there’s almost universal opposition to the war throughout the world,” says Rashid Khalidi, professor of Middle East history and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.

“There are a few exceptions: I think Britain, a couple of other countries, where support is over 50 percent,” he adds. “But to the best of my knowledge there’s no region in the world where there is any pro-war feeling. Everywhere else it seems to be extremely unpopular or very unpopular, or at least a majority are against.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, where there are countries with sizeable Muslim populations, it is unpopular. Nonetheless outside of South Africa, there have been no large-scale demonstrations, even in nations like Nigeria that were rocked by deadly protests during the first Gulf War.

Ebere Onwudiwe, executive director of the Center for International Studies at Central State University in Ohio, says African governments have spoken out against the war, their populations generally sympathize with the Iraqi people but not to the point of anti-U.S. extremism. But Professor Onwudiwe cautions that if the war distracts the Bush Administration too much, its efforts in Africa will lag and it risks growing opposition.

“The United States still enjoys a very huge reservoir of good will in Africa as a result of these post-war investments they have made in Africa: helping out in the end of apartheid; promoting democratic transitions; helping free Africa from the chains of dictatorships,” he says. “All of these things created a lot of good will for it. But it might be the case that the longevity of the war might become directly proportional to the rate of the diminishment of America’s store of good will in Africa.”

U.S. interests could also be hurt in Asia, where popular opinion opposes the war says Scott Kennedy, assistant professor of East Asian languages and culture at Indiana University.

“I do think that this is going to have a more long-term effect on U.S. security interests in the region,” he says. “Because of the war and public opinion against the U.S., you see a greater discussion in Japan about the need to perhaps revise its constitution. There’s greater talk about the eventual need for nuclear weapons. And that would be a huge change.”

The most virulent anti-war and anti-U.S. protests have centered in the Middle East and Europe. Sidney Tarrow is professor of government at Cornell University. His work focuses on social movements and politics in Europe. He says Europeans are angered by what they see as the Bush Admininstration’s dismissal of internationalism.

“That comes as quite a shock, not only because we were after all the founders of the United Nations and its major supporters in the early years, but because we’ve supported a number of international initiatives over the past years, and particularly during the Clinton Administration,” Professor Tarrow says. “So that the Bush Administration’s rejection of the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Accords, the Strategic Disarmament Treaty, as well as the United Nations’ majority view in the Iraq controversy, has taken Europeans much by surprise.”

But anti-Americanism comes and goes in Europe and elsewhere says Nile Gardiner, an analyst of Anglo-American security policy at Washington’s Heritage Foundation. He warns against overestimating this opposition.

“I think that levels of anti-Americanism vary tremendously from country to country. But I think the latest developments in Baghdad have completely vindicated the position of President Bush and also Prime Minister Blair on the Iraq question,” he says. “But I imagine that we will see some sort of anti-American backlash in those nations that tried to keep Saddam Hussein in power, for example, France, Germany and Russia.”

Understandably, the war is a hot topic in the Middle East, where the public is vehemently opposed. Although leaders in this region have criticized the war publicly, Juan Cole, professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan, says many Arab leaders are tacitly cooperating with the United States. This has sparked anti-regime protests in Egypt and Jordan. Professor Cole doesn’t think this will seriously threaten either government.

“In both Egypt and Jordan you have sort-of quasi-authoritarian governments. There’s some consultative input into the government, but ultimately Mubarak and King Abdullah hold the reigns of power,” he says. “In both instances I should think that they are somewhat afraid that this popular unrest will turn into challenges to their government. But it never has before. So I don’t see strong evidence that these protests are such as to threaten the stability of these regimes.”

The United States has tried to counter anti-American sentiment in the Middle East but Juan Cole says that’s hard.

“It’s my impression that the vast majority of Arab intellectuals are really, really furious about this, because there are several principles in play. One is the issue of self-determination, and in the region this looks like the Americans are coming in and taking away the Iraqi people’s right of self-determination,” he says.

“Now the United States is attempting to portray this as a liberation, the restoring to the Iraqi peoples of their right to self-determination, which Saddam has deprived them of,” Professor Cole says. “But because of the history of colonialism in the region, it’s a really hard argument to make.”

The recent images from Iraq of residents celebrating in the capital’s streets and toppling statues of Saddam Hussein are reminiscent of what happened during the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and Russia. The Heritage Foundation’s Nile Gardiner says this is a strong antidote to the Arab and Muslim world’s anti-Americanism.

“I think those are extremely powerful images and they demonstrate the deep unpopularity of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad,” Mr. Gardiner says. “I think this will have a knock-on effect in the rest of the Arab world, and I think it will lessen opposition to the forthcoming U.S. and British administration of Iraq. But I think the best way to counter anti-American feeling in the Arab world is by doing a superb job in terms of running a post-war Iraq and preparing Iraq for an eventual takeover by the Iraqi people themselves.”

While the Iraq War has clearly stoked the fires of anti-Americanism, the University of Chicago’s Rashid Khalidi agrees that what the U.S. does in post-war Iraq is equally important.

“If the same unilateralist impulses that have driven this war almost entirely have free reign in the post war, most of the world will be against us,” he says. “And most of the world will regard the United States as illegitimate in its actions and will not give any support, any endorsements, any international legitimacy or any money to whatever efforts are made in Iraq. And the United States will find itself in a difficult situation.”

The debate within the Bush Administration over how much of a role the Pentagon should play in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq and what role the United Nation’s should play continues. Observers say the outcome of this debate is just as important as the outcome of the Iraq War.

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