April 22, 2004


The U.S. doesn't care about Palestinians (Walter Russell Mead ,International Herald Tribune, 22/04/04)

For the last five weeks I have been traveling through the Middle East, meeting diplomats, officials, policy experts, military leaders, students and ordinary citizens.

I learned something very important: The greatest single cause of anti-Americanism in the Middle East today is not the war in Iraq; more surprisingly, it is not even American support for Israel, per se. Rather, it is a widespread belief that the United States simply does not care about the rights or needs of the Palestinian people. "The Palestinian issue is really what discredits the United States throughout the region," a senior Western diplomat with years of experience in the Middle East told me. Or, as one student after another put it after one of the university lectures I conducted across the region: "Why do Americans have to be so biased?"

In Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and other countries, the large majority of people I spoke with are ready to tolerate the Jewish state - most even understand that the final boundaries of Israel will include some of the heavily settled areas beyond the pre-1967 borders. They also understand that few if any Palestinians will return to the homes they lost after the war that erupted when Israel declared its independence in 1948. And they are prepared to accept, though not to relish, America's close relations with Israel. Beyond that, they want increased American support for their domestic political reforms and for initiatives to enhance regional cooperation for economic growth and fighting terrorism.

But one thing sticks in their craw: Why doesn't America care more about the Palestinians' future?

They have a point. America's Middle East policy is unnecessarily zero-sum. We can be more pro-Palestinian without being less pro-Israeli. Indeed, to the degree that American policies help create support for compromise among Palestinians, pro-Palestinian initiatives can help Israel too. Take compensation. United Nations resolutions call for financial compensation for Palestinians who cannot return to their family homes in Israel. Israel's position that it cannot accept millions of refugees and their descendants is reasonable enough, and the Bush administration's support of it is nothing new. But we should be equally clear about compensation. Many questions need answering: Where can Palestinians go to have their claims for lost property adjudicated and certified? What tribunal will hear these claims? What principles will guide its deliberations? Where will the money come from to pay the claims? The United States can and should take the lead in building an international consensus on the compensation issue and, working with allies in Europe and elsewhere, help raise money to ensure that it is more than a pious wish...

Taking the lead on these and other issues vital to the Palestinians wouldn't bring quick progress toward peace in the region, nor would it undo overnight the consequences of decades of suspicion and resentment. But it would help to reduce anti-Americanism in the Muslim world and beyond, as well as to advance the cause of peace.

It is hard to believe Mr. Read is a distinguished expert in foreign policy. He sounds like a first time tourist returning from overseas and gushing about how nice the people were. Not only has he found a heretofore hidden Arab silent majority that exudes compromise and reasonableness, he argues, after all the world has lived through in recent years, that a U.S. sponsored Palestinian Displacement Compensation Program will lead to a new era of philo-Americanism in the Muslim world and overall peace in the Middle East.

As non-American writers like Paul Johnson, Christopher Hitchens and Jean-Francois Revel show, anti-Americanism is mainly an organic condition that provides a shield behind which elites the world over, both left and right, hide from their incompetence, impotence and fear of democracy. It does not wax and wane with changes in strategic policy or new aid initiatives. There is little historical evidence that a caring and compassionate approach to foreign policy wins the U.S. friends, or helps it or anyone else. Indeed, most of the evidence points the other way. Nor, as many seem to believe, is anti-Americanism a post-Vietnam or post Cold War phenomenon. It has been a prominent feature of international relations since the U.S. rose to great power status in the late 19th century, particularly in Europe and Latin America, and there were plenty of examples even before then. In World War 11, the European left was delighting in it even before the Nazi guns were silenced.

Charity is a virtue and it is always wise to listen to the counsel of friends. But it is hard to think of a scarier thought than that future American foreign policy may be fueled primarily by a quest for global affection or the approval of symbolic allies.

Posted by Peter Burnet at April 22, 2004 3:25 PM

Why should America or any other non-Arab nation care about the Palestinians when the Arabs themselves don't even care; if they did they wouldn't have allowed 2 generations of refugees to be born into those disgusting camps over the last 50+ years. This is America's problem?

When the Arabs in the area reflect back on their own policies and admit they've screwed their own people big time for decades, then we can talk about American resonsibility. Not one second before. And besides, what is public opinion really worth in countries that don't have a free press? We DO have a free press; how well-informed is the average citizen here?

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at April 22, 2004 4:11 PM

Imagine Bibi Netanyahu writing a Times editorial about how Israel should work to make sure the Native Americans and descendants of slaves are adequately compensated?

Posted by: oj at April 22, 2004 4:25 PM

Good simile, Orrin. I find it hard to credit, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes as you posted it here, that the same writer who so perfectly identified the Jacksonian character of GWB's foreign policy could write what I, with the most sincere regret, must call drivel.

On the other hand, everyone has an off day sometimes.

Posted by: Joe at April 22, 2004 6:00 PM


Extremely well said.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 22, 2004 6:24 PM



Posted by: L. Rogers at April 22, 2004 7:33 PM

Isn't someone "fueled by a quest for global affection" usually an abuse victim/enabler?

Posted by: Ken at April 22, 2004 7:58 PM

He's had better days, since September 11; as you've pointed out. He was a real academic version of a Ted Rall/Michael Moore type when he started out; as in Mortal Splendor; when he speculated about a more robust executive's
response to adverse criticism following a major
Central American or Middle Eastern insurgency (something about deep sixing the likes of Woodward
& Bernstein; on second thought) He also though there was a good chance of the development of a
new direct action left, and government death squads.

As for the Palestinians; those folks whose leaders
supported Hitler, the Soviets, Castro, Saddam & company of Osama; who hijacked airliners,murdered athletes and foreign travelers; directed the assassination of at least two US Ambassadors (in Lebanon & Sudan). We owe them next to nothing

Posted by: narciso at April 22, 2004 8:46 PM


Wrong. We owe them precision delivered tritonal.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 22, 2004 10:32 PM

The thought that we "owe" the Palis anything is beyond risible. They've lost their wars, let them adapt. My own preference would be for the Israelis to bus and the residents of Gaza and the West Bank into the Jordanian desert, and drop them off with a few days supply of food and water.

Posted by: John Cunningham at April 23, 2004 1:31 AM

Keeping in mind, though, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

If you shout "You're not being fair" loud enough and long enough, chances are you'll be listened to.

On the other hand, there's always the "call wolf" syndrome, but I think that that threshold's already been passed, so we're back to the squeaky wheel thang.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at April 23, 2004 11:10 AM

"The U.S. doesn't care about Palestinians "

I used to. The terrorism made me slowly care less. But it was when I saw them dancing in the streets on 9/12/01 that I officially stopped giving a $%^&*.

Posted by: ralph phelan at April 25, 2004 1:34 PM