History Repeating Itself

Wed Nov. 2, 2005 9:29 PM EST

Throughout the Cold War, the United States government reached out to Arab leaders in an effort to combat the Soviet threat and increase goodwill in the Middle East towards capitalism and the West. State Department documents show the US government had a fairly astute grasp of the psychological state of the Arab world, a fact that makes our current fumbling even more disheartening. The paragraphs below refer to American actions in WWII, but could apply equally to the insurgency in Iraq.

These events gave the spur of bitterness and the enticement of prospective success to an intensely nationalistic, indeed a fanatical, drive to be free of Western control, a drive to which patriotic, racial, religious, and economic motives alike impelled nearly all classes. Final intensity was given [to] this drive by the explosive Arab reaction against Western and particularly American support for the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel.

The primarily negative reaction against the West with which we need to deal therefore revolves around the belief that the West has over a long period sought to exploit the people and the resources of the Arab world for its own purposes, that this exploitation has involved the deliberate continuation of a quasi-colonial political status, and that it has produced or at least perpetuated and aggravated the poverty of the area. Envy has reinforced suspicion, and helplessness and frustration have made it irrational. To this set of attitudes has been added a hostility arising from religious sources—perhaps no longer primarily a zealous detestation of the infidel but rather a resentment of the contempt or indifference with which the West is thought to view Islam and Islamic civilization; coupled with a conservative aversion to what are thought to be the materialism, godlessness, and immorality of Western and particularly American life.