How to lose hearts and minds American style
How to lose hearts and minds American style
Tuesday, September 22,2009 13:35
By Joseph Mayton

The CIA is under investigation for abuses and torture of al-Qaida suspects. Guess what? This is not how Washington is going win hearts and minds. As soon as the story broke, heads dropped across the region, repeatedly asking how the CIA could have been so stupid, idiotic. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney then comes out and talks of how these tactics were the best source of information and gave investigators insight into the global network. Maybe he is right, maybe he is not. We probably will never know; they were tortured, so that is that.

What is important is the ripple affect these things have across the globe. President Barrack Obama must move quickly to dispel any notions that this sort of action will be taken under his watch. Not just overseeing the interrogations via the White House, but a statement to the Arab world that says this sort of action will not be tolerated, those responsible will be prosecuted to the fullest degree. If not, it will continue a policy of his predecessor, who ran a muck in any reconciliation efforts with the Middle East.

The published findings stated that prisoners were threatened with the killing of their children, the raping of their mothers and so on. No culture in the world would think for a moment that this is a way to win people over to a cause. Well, maybe not. It appears that a number of conservatives, including a majority of the previous administration believed these tactics to be useful. Maybe they believed it would show their “honor” to the Middle East. It is laughable that Cheney still believes he has pull in this administration.
More importantly, commentators and opinion writers have, for the past 8 years, sought solutions to the growing hatred in the Middle East toward the United States. They talk of reconciling the attitudes of those “fanatical” Islamists with American values. They speak of how the “Arab street” needs to be “freed.” And yet, after all the talk that continues, the solutions directly in front of their faces continue to allude them. It is easy and simple how the United States can win back the hearts and minds of the Arab world that they had secured before the 1967 war.

Number 1: get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The region does not take lightly to occupiers, just ask Israel. Number 2: deal even-handedly with the Israeli government, Hamas and all parties and organizations in the Holy Land; and number 3: stop the support of dictatorial regimes, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Stop looking at the situation from a single lens. When an average Egyptian, or any other Arab, reads that the United States is involved in torturing prisoners, what do they connect this to? Their own governments. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and across the region, police and the military routinely torture prisoners in order to get confessions. It allegedly occurred most recently in Egypt over the Hezbollah terror case that began on Monday.

Egyptians, Syrians, Saudis, Lebanese, etc. are not so different as their American middle-class counterparts. If it is abhorred on the “American street” it is most certainly abhorred in the Arab world.

Americans often talk of the exceptionalism that helped build the American ideal, but that time is over. People are more similar and have common goals more often than not. We can sit and discuss the influence of Wahhabism across the region, but when it comes down to the simple truth, Arabs want what Americans have and are not giving: a life free from fear.

Obama has a chance to recreate the image of the United States. The question is whether he truly wants to win over the hearts and minds of a region fraught with anger and frustration, or if he will continue a policy of “reconciliation, nice words and little substance.” Time will tell, but for now, that path is being blocked by American ineptitude and weakness.