Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why U.S. Help Doesn't Bring Love

By Barry Rubin

I was attacked on a Pakistani blog for my article about how a recent poll shows only a 1 percent rise in the popularity of the United States since President Barack Obama took office along with other results showing how deep extremism and anti-Americanism is in that country.

My writing about this relates to a larger discussion about how the idea that Obama is wildly popular almost everywhere in the world and this has valuable policy implications is simply wrong on both counts.

What’s important is not the blog, which is obscure, or the criticism, which is tendentious. But the main three arguments, which are so often heard, are worth refuting briefly.

One is that the United States should not receive any positive response for its huge aid to Pakistan because it is merely hiring the Pakistani military for certain specific services.

This is something often heard . Aid either shores up a regime which the critic doesn’t like or it is merely serving U.S. purposes. But the money going to Pakistan is to fight revolutionary Islamists who also subvert Pakistani society and cause significant bloodshed. So in fact, the aid directly does benefit Pakistan and its interests.

Indirectly, of course, by strengthening the Pakistani military with money and equipment, the United States also creates a situation in which Pakistan could more easily attack India or brazenly sponsor terrorism against its neighbor and then defy its pressures to stop doing so. Similarly, U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority in terms of military equipment and training might some day be used to fight Israel.

At least, donors should be aware if and when the provision of lavish aid (not to mention diplomatic support and other beneficial behavior) will bring no return of popularity or willingness to cooperate with itself.

The second argument is the old one that Pakistanis cannot hate America when they are eager to get a green card to work there or to buy its products.

Why, however, are people in countries like Pakistan or Arabic-speaking countries so quick to argue that America hates them, which is precisely what the poll on Pakistan shows? One equivalent argument would be to say that if American tourists would like to go to a country or eat at an ethnic restaurant representing its cuisine this proves they really love that country. China, you’re in great shape!

The third argument is that U.S. policy has always been totally pro-Indian. (Indians have their own idea on that point.) It is easy to show that the United States has often side with Pakistan even at times when this was unpopular to do so (as in the Bangladesh crisis, or ignoring Pakistan’s close involvement in bloody massacres in India).

A key point here is that U.S. attempts to show how sympathetic it is to Islam or to a given country; no matter how hard it tries to distance itself from that country’s enemies—as with Obama Administration efforts in the current Middle East—will not bring much return.

Consider that for 16 years, the PLO, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority has been a U.S. client. There is no pro-American aspect of their policies, however, or sense of gratitude. America is still the enemy and they—along with other Arabs—will tell you how America completely backs Israel and does nothing for the Palestinians.

Attitudes are simply fixed in place to a large extent, bubbling up from an anti-democratic political culture, manipulated by governments, or even set by historic experiences. That was, after all, the point of the article.

For a fuller discussion of these issues and of anti-Americanism in general see here and look at our book, Hating America: A History.

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