Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I think it's great that Citizen Smash is trying to understand the mindset of people in the Arabian Gulf.

I WAS SITTING in a carpet shop in Dubai when an Arab merchant asked me a startling question. “America is a very powerful country,” he began, “Why do you not finish Saddam?”

The year was 1998, and two US Navy carrier battle groups were on station in the Gulf, flying around-the-clock missions over the southern “no-fly-zone.” I took a moment to collect myself, and then offered the man a fumbling explanation about UN weapons inspectors and international law.

The merchant wasn’t impressed. “Saddam is a very dangerous man. You cannot trust him. Why don’t you finish the war? You do not need United Nations.”

That’s when it hit me: for many Arabs, the Gulf War didn’t end in 1991. They realized that Saddam wasn’t finished, and they believed that he was playing a waiting game, hoping that the Americans and British would ultimately grow weary of “containing” him and go home. Indeed, many Arabs suspected that Saddam had designs on the entire Arabian Peninsula.

They saw our reluctance to “finish the job” as a sign of weakness. But this wasn’t just an isolated incident. They remembered our tepid reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and our helplessness during the Iran hostage crisis. They remembered how we turned tail and ran away after setbacks in Beirut and Mogadishu. They saw how we failed to respond after attacks on the USS Stark and, a few years later, the USS Cole.

In short, they believed we were a paper tiger.

He may even have done a good job - many of them may feel or have felt as he says. Although I respect these Arabs, as I respect people everywhere, I do not believe they are correct. I am especially proud of the restraint my country showed for many years, and believe it is part of the reason for our long history as a superpower without paying the traditional price of empire - huge quantities of blood on all sides. I respect many conservatives and try to learn from them, but sometimes I wonder, Why Do They Always Blame America First?

Whatever misperceptions of American resolve there may be, lets not be so quick to assume things would have been better if we'd taken the road more travelled.

No comments: