American and Muslims Voices: Both Seek Common Ground on U.S. Foreign Policy

In the latest Washington Post/ABC poll respondents by 16 points favored McCain over Obama in knowledge about world affairs. In an effort to overcome such perceptions Obama will undertake a major international trip later this month. While details of the trip remain vague, it is the expected that Obama, in addition to visiting our traditional allies in Europe will also visit Muslim countries like Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama is also expected to give a major speech in front of the historic
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. After seven years of Bush unilateralism, mending fences with Europe is desirable and understandable. However, the European challenge pales in front of the continued worsening of our relationship with the Muslim world. American troops are engaged in two wars in the Muslim nations of Iraq and Afghanistan and are perhaps poised to invade a third, Iran.

Moreover, ill-advised rhetoric from the Presidential candidates, continue to add fuel to the fire. McCain singing “
bomb Iran” and “joking” about exporting American cigarettes to kill Iranians or Obama supporting an “undivided Jerusalem” (which he later backtracked on) and “willing to attack inside Pakistan” are hardening perceptions about America’s intent in the Muslim world.

Earlier last year, Steven Kull, editor of
testifying before House Committee on Foreign Affairs said, "For decades, polls in the Muslim world and the statements of Muslim leaders have shown a variety of resentments about US policies. Muslims share the worldwide view that the US does not live up to its own ideals of international law and democracy. … These attitudes persist. But now there … now seems to be a perception that the US has entered into a war against Islam itself.” No more than 5 to 10 percent of people living in Muslim majority countries find the United States to be trustworthy, friendly or respectful. Even those Muslims who aspire to better relations with the West remain skeptical of the United States (in “Who Speaks for Islam?” by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed).

Dotting these ominous clouds are many silver linings promising hope.

A recent Gallup poll, chronicled in Esposito and Mogahed’s book, shows that nearly
9 in 10 Muslims support freedom of speech, defined as allowing all citizens to express their opinions freely on all major issues of the day. Overwhelming majorities support women having the same legal rights as men. Similar numbers hold beliefs that their faith ought to inform and guide them in their politics. Yet most do not want sacred religious texts to be the exclusive source of law in their societies.

The most common aspiration, all across the Muslim world, is to see America help in reducing unemployment, improving economic infrastructure, respecting political rights and promoting freedom.

Back at home, in a poll conducted by the non-partisan group
Public Agenda, overall anxiety about foreign policy remains high. Clear majority of American’s support diplomatic and economic means to resolve conflicts. Nearly half favor the use of such methods to deal with Iran. Most respondents want America’s top foreign policy priorities to be humanitarian, such as assisting with clean water supplies, helping poor countries move out of poverty, providing more access to education or controlling the spread of deadly diseases.

Such convergence of aspiration creates new opportunities for cooperation through sustained intellectual and diplomatic engagement. To his credit,
Obama in a July 15 interview with CNN’s Larry King spoke about the need to engage with Pakistan’s newly elected government. He went on to say, “what we need to do is to form an alliance with the Pakistani people, saying that we're willing to significantly increase aid for humanitarian purposes, for schools, for hospitals, for health care. We want to support democratic efforts in Pakistan.”

In addition, increasing student and scholar exchange programs, spending on anti-poverty programs, opening new opportunities for businesses will do more to help America’s security and image than putting more boots on the ground. It is time to break our foreign policy from the grips of special interest groups whose ideological bent have dragged us into unnecessary wars fueling dangerous perceptions about America’s neo-imperialistic intentions.

1 comment:

John Maszka said...

In the 1950s, in the wake of Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” plan, Pakistan obtained a 125 megawatt heavy-water reactor from Canada. After India’s first atomic test in May 1974, Pakistan immediately sought to catch up by attempting to purchase a reprocessing plant from France. After France declined due to U.S. resistance, Pakistan began to assemble a uranium enrichment plant via materials from the black market and technology smuggled through A.Q. Khan. In 1976 and 1977, two amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act were passed, prohibiting American aid to countries pursuing either reprocessing or enrichment capabilities for nuclear weapons programs.
These two, the Symington and Glenn Amendments, were passed in response to Pakistan’s efforts to achieve nuclear weapons capability; but to little avail. Washington’s cool relations with Islamabad soon improved. During the Reagan administration, the US turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon’s program. In return for Pakistan’s cooperation and assistance in the mujahideen’s war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Reagan administration awarded Pakistan with the third largest economic and military aid package after Israel and Egypt. Despite the Pressler Amendment, which made US aid contingent upon the Reagan administration’s annual confirmation that Pakistan was not pursuing nuclear weapons capability, Reagan’s “laissez-faire” approach to Pakistan’s nuclear program seriously aided the proliferation issues that we face today.
Not only did Pakistan continue to develop its own nuclear weapons program, but A.Q. Khan was instrumental in proliferating nuclear technology to other countries as well. Further, Pakistan’s progress toward nuclear capability led to India’s return to its own pursuit of nuclear weapons, an endeavor it had given up after its initial test in 1974. In 1998, both countries had tested nuclear weapons. A uranium-based nuclear device in Pakistan; and a plutonium-based device in India
Over the years of America's on again off again support of Pakistan, Musharraf continues to be skeptical of his American allies. In 2002 he is reported to have told a British official that his “great concern is that one day the United States is going to desert me. They always desert their friends.” Musharraf was referring to Viet Nam, Lebanon, Somalia ... etc., etc., etc.,
Taking the war to Pakistan is perhaps the most foolish thing America can do. Obama is not the first to suggest it, and we already have sufficient evidence of the potentially negative repercussions of such an action. On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid. Pakistan has 160 million Arabs (better than half of the population of the entire Arab world). Pakistan also has the support of China and a nuclear arsenal.
I predict that America’s military action in the Middle East will enter the canons of history alongside Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Holocaust, in kind if not in degree. The Bush administration’s war on terror marks the age in which America has again crossed a line that many argue should never be crossed. Call it preemption, preventive war, the war on terror, or whatever you like; there is a sense that we have again unleashed a force that, like a boom-a-rang, at some point has to come back to us. The Bush administration argues that American military intervention in the Middle East is purely in self-defense. Others argue that it is pure aggression. The consensus is equally as torn over its impact on international terrorism. Is America truly deterring future terrorists with its actions? Or is it, in fact, aiding the recruitment of more terrorists?
The last thing the United States should do at this point and time is to violate yet another state’s sovereignty.