Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Fred Branfman Headshot

President Bush is Endangering Our Lives: 11. Weakening us throughout the Muslim World

Posted: Updated:

"(Captured reporter Jill) Carroll actually spoke Arabic and still was unable to avoid the wash of fury and hatred that now confronts Westerners. We are not wanted." (Emphasis added)
-- Alissa Rubin, L.A. Times, 1/26/05

"But while I am certain bin Laden is losing, I still don't feel that we are "winning," that we are really making progress in democratizing political life in the Arab-Muslim world. America, and particularly President Bush, are still radioactive - widely disliked. (Emphasis added)
-- Tom Friedman, NYT, 1/25/06

"Anti-Americanism in (Arab and Muslim countries) is driven largely by aversion to U.S. policies, such as the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and U.S. support for Israel, (and) the general perception that the U.S. fails to consider the interests of countries in the region when it acts in the international arena."
-- Andrew Kohut, Pew Center, 11/10/05 House Testimony (Emphasis added)

Mr. Bush's post-WMD rationale for his occupation of Iraq is that he is creating a "model of freedom" that will strengthen our position throughout the Muslim world. In fact his policies, as identified by Mr. Kohut, have gravely weakened us in a giant area inhabited by 1.2 billion people. Ms. Rubin's comment applies well beyond Iraq. Mr. Bush's policies have increased the extent to which we are not only "not wanted" but hated throughout the Muslim World - a development that could cost countless American lives in coming years.

Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq in the name of democracy was doomed for one simple reason: Mideastern anger at their long-term occupation by western powers. Mr. Bush may tell the American people that he did not occupy Iraq for its oil, or to help Israel, and even believe it. But Muslims do not. It is simply not possible for Mr. Bush to occupy oil-rich Iraq and convince the 1.2 billion-strong Muslim world that he is doing so to bring it democracy. Memories of western imperialism are too long, and hatred of it too deep, for such a story to be believed.

Rather than winning the U.S. approval for promoting democracy, Mr. Bush's policies have dramatically reduced our approval ratings throughout the Muslim world. According to the Pew Center U.S. approval ratings between 99/00 and 2005 have plummeted: in Indonesia, 72 to 38; Turkey 72 to 23; and Morocco, where some of the Madrid train bombers came from, 77 to 23 (in 2004). Support for "the U.S.-led war on terror" is at only 22% in Pakistan, where Al Qaeda is now based. Rather than being welcomed for promoting democracy in the Muslim world, we are hated as occupiers.

Ironically, the only time the Bush Administration has won any support whatsoever has been through the kind of "soft" policies that Mr. Cheney sneeringly accuses Democrats of favoring. After earthquake aid to Pakistan and Tsunami aid to Southeast Asia the U.S. approval rating rose somewhat both in Pakistan and Indonesia, the latter from 15% in 2004 to 38% in October 2005 (still down from 72% before the Iraq invasion.)

What is even more maddening is that, as Mr. Kohut has testified, "despite the continuing unpopularity of the U.S.-led fight against terrorism, there is growing evidence that support for terrorism is waning among Muslim publics." Had Mr. Bush capitalized on growing anti-terrorist sentiment in the Muslim world, instead of making us hated by invading Iraq, we could today be working together with Muslims to reduce attacks on civilians.

The ways in which Mr. Bush's Iraqi invasion has harmed U.S. national security in the Middle East are so numerous that we can only list a few of the most important issues here:

-- Arming Our Enemies in in Iraq: One can only imagine the smile on the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr's face the day he realized that rather than fighting the Americans he so hates he could trick Mr. Bush into arming and training his soldiers, so that they could torture and murder Sunnis in return for Sunni attacks on them. As noted earlier, the NYT has reported that "Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the top overall American trainer in Iraq, acknowledged that hundreds of militia gunmen had joined police departments around the country, while still retaining loyalties to their militia commanders." (1/16/06) That Mr. Bush is arming his enemies was made even clearer when Mr. Al-Sadr recently visited Iran, and vowed to defend it against the U.S. "`If neighboring Islamic countries, including Iran, become the target of attacks, we will support them'," he said in comments reported by The Associated Press. "`The Mahdi Army is beyond the Iraqi Army. It was established to defend Islam.'" (LAT, 1/29/06)

The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is trying to ensure that the new Minister of the Interior not be tied to the militias. It is unclear if such a man can be found, how he will be able to identify and disarm al-Sadr's men, and whether he will be brave enough to try. If he turns to the U.S. military to try and disarm the militias we have armed, it will only increase the number of foes America faces and weaken its position even further.

-- Strengthening Iran: Although Mr. Bush identified Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil" threatening the U.S., his arming of the Shiite militias gives Iran added leverage against him. Iran has actually been encouraged to go forward with its nuclear program because of Mr. Bush's miscalculations in Iraq, as the LAT also reported on 1/29: "Iranians know that American forces, now stretched thin, are unlikely to invade Iran. And if the United States or Europe were to try a small-scale, targeted attack, the proximity of American forces makes them potential targets for retaliation. Iranians also know the fighting in Iraq has helped raise oil prices, and any attempt to impose sanctions could push prices higher. In addition, the Iranians have longstanding ties to influential Shiite religious leaders in Iraq. All of those calculations have reduced Iranian fears of going ahead with their nuclear program." (Emphasis added.)

Mr. Bush's unpopular invasion of Iraq also helped slow democratization in Iran and elect its new hard-line and Holocaust-denying President. Iran has abandoned "a strategy of diplomatic compromise pursued by the reformist president Muhammad Khatami. The hard-line conservative, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected in June to replace Mr. Khatami, has joined the religious leadership in a policy of confrontation." (LAT, 1/29)

-- Strengthening anti-democratic forces throughout the Muslim world: While Mr. Bush speaks of promoting democracy, his invasion of Iraq has actually worked against democratization in U.S. allies. The dictators we support in Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan have no interest in democracy. Egypt's President's Hosni Mubarak has stated, "Democracy can cause an earthquake in a country. For instance, what would happen if a majority of extremists were to win in parliament? We would be seeing Islamists in government in Egypt and Iraq. But of course we will not allow (it)." (La Republica, March 2004.)

Perhaps, had Mr. Bush not invaded Iraq, he might have been able to patiently nudge pro-American dictatorships towards more democracy. But he is today so dependent upon them for support in Iraq that his leverage has been reduced to near-zero.

So dependent is Mr. Bush upon the Saudi Arabian regime, for example, that he is unable even to stop it from continuing to support the spread of terrorism that threatens us. The LAT has reported that "although Saudi Arabia has cracked down on militants within its borders, the kingdom has not met its promises to help prevent the spread of terrorism or curb the flow of money from Saudis to terrorist cells around the world, U.S. intelligence, diplomatic and other officials say." (1/15/06).

Even Mr. Bush's limited progress towards democracy in Afghanistan has been jeopardized by his unthinking rush into Iraq. Forces aligned with the Taliban have grown in strength in the past year, warlords rule outside Kabul, and the heroin trade has been resumed. Many experts believe the U.S. position can only worsen in coming years. And the U.S. occupation of Iraq has so dominated Muslim sensibilities that Mr. Bush has received virtually no credit for the limited improvements that have occurred in Afghanistan.

-- Strengthening anti-U.S. forces throughout the Muslim World: To the limited extent that Mr. Bush's policies are promoting "democracy", they are helping bring to power extremist Islamic forces that hate America. The recent election of Hamas is the most dramatic example of this. Mr. Kohut's polling indicates that combining a commitment to democracy with Mr. Bush's main policies - occupation of Iraq, his botched war on terror, lack of evenhandedness toward Israel and unilateralism - is only strengthening anti-U.S. Islamic extremism.

Just as U.S. support for the Shah of Iran eventually led to a virulently anti-U.S. regime taking power in Iran, Mr. Bush's support for dictatorships who are not in fact democratizing is making the U.S. position in the Muslim world increasingly untenable. The President has so mismanaged U.S. Mideast policy that we lose if we do not support democracy, and we lose if we do.

It is obvious that a precondition for Mr. Bush reducing ongoing U.S. losses in the Middle East is to pull out of Iraq as soon as possible, retrench, and commit to consultation, coalition-building, and policies that take into account Muslim sentiment. If this does not occur, Mr. Bush's present failures in the Muslim world may well lead to an ever-growing cycle of violence that will still be afflicting our children and grandchildren decades from now. His policies are weakening our position throughout the Muslim world. Ending his widely unpopular occupation of Iraq is a necessary precondition to beginning to rebuild our strength there.