Has the U.S. Really Played Its Hand Immorally in the Middle East?

Fact & Fiction

Mr. Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the Interdisciplinary Center. His latest books are The Tragedy of the Middle East (Cambridge) and, with Judith Colp Rubin, Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East (Oxford).

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"It is important to gain respect, rather than sympathy."
Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, Interview in al-Safir, July 16, 2001.

"Aggressors thrive on appeasement. The world learned that at tremendous cost from the Munich agreement of 1938....How could the German generals oppose Hitler once he had proven himself successful? Indeed, aggressors are usually clever at putting their demands in a way that seems reasonable."
Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdoon, "The U.S-Iran Arms Deal: An Iraqi Critique," Middle East Review (Summer 1982).

"The believers do not fear the enemy [during] the struggle….Yet their enemies protect [their] lives like a miser protects his money. They…do not enter into battles seeking martyrdom….This is the secret of the believers' victory over their enemies."
Abdallah Al-Najjar, al-Gumhuriya, October 7, 2001.

"[Those] God guides will never lose….America [is] filled with fear from the north to south and east to west….[Now there will be] two camps: the camp of belief and of disbelief. So every Muslim shall…support his religion."
Usama bin Laden, al-Jazira television, October 7, 2001.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack that killed around 3,500 people in the United States, there has been a great deal of discussion about U.S. Middle East policy. The terrorists and those who supported them or at least sought to explain their deeds, spoke of past American policy as being responsible for profound grievances on the part of Arabs and Muslims. Accepting the reality of these grievances, many observers--Arab and Muslim leaders, Western Middle East experts, and Middle East journalists and intellectuals--claimed that this situation required an apology for past American behavior, a change of course for future U.S. policy, and somehow justified or explained the September attack.

But this argument and much of the debate following the September 11, 2000 events has profoundly misrepresented the history and nature of U.S. Middle East policy to the point where it has become a caricature of reality. Equally, such distortions make it far harder to understand the terrorists’ true motives, the reasons why many Arabs and Muslims seem to support or sympathize with them, and the implications of these events for the region. Many things about American policy in the Middle East that contradict the case against the United States have been forgotten or ignored.

What is most important is that the truth is far different from the way it is being presented in so many places. And only by understanding this history is it possible to comprehend the real reasons for the terrorism of September 11 and its interconnections with wider trends in the region.
This article attempts to set the record somewhat straighter. The ground rules for this article are as follows: In correcting the imbalance mentioned above the intention here is not to imply that the United States has not made mistakes, that grievances (right or wrong) do not exist, or that the author necessarily endorses the specific U.S. policies and activities cited. Still, much of the case against America is built on wild conspiracy theories that charge the United States with deeds that were never committed. Other elements of the criticism are based on profound misrepresentations of American society originating in the Arab mass media, which is in itself the recipient of huge state subsidies and high levels of state direction.

Obviously, the United States, like all other countries, seeks to make a foreign policy that is in accord with its interests. In dealing with this particular debate about the Middle East, however, that factor is quite irrelevant. Even if the reason that the United States saved Kuwait from permanent conquest by a radical secularist regime in Iraq in 1991, for example, was primarily because of oil interests, the American policy was still in practice pro-Kuwait, pro-Muslim, and pro-Arab. After all, there were many alternatives available. The United States might have tried to seize control of oil assets for itself or threatened oil-producing states with violence if prices were not lowered or U.S. companies’ holdings were molested.

What is important is that U.S. leaders have usually defined American interests and tried to implement policies in the Middle East in a way most closely in accord with winning support from the widest possible group of Arabs and Muslims. At any rate, to claim that the United States took pro-Arab or pro-Muslim stances because these were deemed to be in its interests does not in any way vitiate the reality of such actions.

An equally important point is that not all Arabs or Muslims, or their leaders, or the states where they live, agree on their own interests or goals. In short, U.S. policies have not been "anti-Arab" or "anti-Muslim" but rather have often opposed radical Arab regimes and forces (often themselves militantly secularist and anti-Islam) and radical Islamist regimes and forces (which most Muslims held to be deviant if not heretical) against their moderate counterparts. Here is the heart of the matter: today, radical groups wish to seize power in the Arab world by defining themselves as the only legitimate Muslims against whom any resistance is opposition to Islam itself.

To begin with, it should be noted that for the last half-century U.S. policymakers have continually had it in mind to avoid insult, antagonism, or needless friction to Middle East Arabs or Muslims. It is literally impossible to find a single statement by any American official during the second half of the twentieth century that was "anti-Arab" or "anti-Muslim" in intention or content.

During the 1940s and early 1950s, U.S. leaders wanted to play an anti-imperialist role in the Middle East. They tended to oppose continued British and French rule in the region and voice support for reform movements. When Gamal Abdel Nasser took power in Egypt in 1952, American policymakers welcomed his coup. That same year, the United States also opposed British proposals to overthrow the nationalist government in Iran. (1)

The Cold War-- the global U.S.-Soviet conflict that shaped all of U.S. foreign policy from the 1950s through the 1980s--altered this strategy. By the mid-1950s, U.S. leaders believed with good reason that this conflict was being extended into the Middle East, where local governments were also taking sides. The United States saw that Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to align with the Soviets. In some states, like Lebanon and Jordan, there was a wave of radical nationalist subversion; in others, like Syria and Iraq, this turmoil led to coups whose new regimes also became friendly to Moscow. And in this context, U.S. leaders also feared that the Iranian government of Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh was being taken over by Communist forces.

Even so, there was one last service the United States rendered to radical Arab nationalism. In 1956, in a remarkable exception to the usual American policy of supporting England and France, the United States opposed their plot to overthrow Nasser during the Suez crisis because it thought this action would antagonize the Arab world and increase Soviet influence. It threatened Britain and pressured Israel to force their military withdrawal from Egyptian territory. The United States saved Nasser, though this deed would not be remembered, far less treated with gratitude, in the Arab world.

Basically, though, what U.S. policy did was simply to take sides in an inter-Arab conflict--Malcolm Kerr aptly called this the "Arab Cold War"--that had also taken on global implications. Far from being anti-Arab, between the 1950s and 1980s, the United States backed some Arab countries that were under assault by others which happened to be allied with the Soviet Union. This same fundamental factor, minus the no-longer-existent USSR--was the pattern that prevailed in the Kuwait crisis of 1990-1991.

Far from being anti-Muslim, the United States became literally the political patron of Islam in the Middle East. After all, traditional Islam was a major bulwark against Communism and radical Arab nationalism. Saudi Arabia, the stronghold for the doctrine of using Islam against radicalism, sought U.S. help to ensure its survival of the Nasserist and Ba’this threat. Even in Iran, the U.S.-organized 1953 coup against the nationalists and in support of the shah met with the approval of most Muslim clerics.

Why would the United States’ taking sides in this inter-Arab conflict be an "anti-Arab" policy? This is only true if one holds that radical Arab nationalism represented the people’s will and that the other regimes were merely stooges of the West. But this is not the argument of all Arabs but rather a self-serving attempt by those holding radical doctrines to present themselves as the only legitimate Arabs. The implication is that countries and governments like Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and even Egypt (since the late 1970s) are not good Arabs but traitors. In addition, one would have to believe that in retrospect the governments of Syria and Iraq have succeeded far better in meeting their people’s needs and bringing them benefits than those of Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

Consider a Cold War analogy, the kind of claim made by Soviet propaganda: By opposing the triumph of Communism in Western Europe, the United States foiled the wishes of the European masses. In this context, the United States could be labeled "anti-European." Equally, when the United States fought Germany (which proposed a new order of a united Europe) in coalition with other European states was this "anti-European?" Or when the United States fought Japan, which claimed to unite all Asia in prosperity, was it anti-Asian? And when the United States competed with the USSR, which purported to lead the world’s masses in a quest for justice and the ideal society, was this anti-Slavic, or anti-European, or anti-working class?

Actually, the existence of the Cold War and its centrality in American strategy deterred the United States from taking tougher stands against even Arab radical forces. The argument accepted was that if various Arab regimes or groups were too alienated by American actions, they might side with the Soviet Union. Thus, the United States pursued a careful course, always on the lookout for "winning away" those Arabs who aligned with the Soviets and avoiding the "loss" of those who didn’t. Thus, the United States successfully wooed Egypt in the late 1970s and therefore that country became the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world (with Israel in first place). The United States also did not attack or act too directly to counter Syria or Iraq. For example, Syria’s control over Lebanon was accepted by Washington.

A powerful source of this type of claim that America was "anti-Arab" or "anti-Islam" is the myth of Arab or of Islamic unity. Ignoring the differences between the national and group interests of various Arabs and Muslims--which have even led to bloody wars in recent years--the claim is that they are really all on the same side. Thus, if not for external interference, they would all live happily together. If there is strife, then, the true cause must be American interference.

And yet history tells a different tale. In fact, American involvement resulted from, and was the cause of, conflicts among Muslim and Arab groups or states. Did Muslim Iraq attack Muslim Iran? Did Arab Muslim Iraq take over Arab Muslim Kuwait? Did Arab Muslim but secularist Nasser’s Egypt threaten Arab Muslim--and more authentically Islamic--Jordan or Saudi Arabia? Did Islamist Afghanistan murder Islamist Iranian officials whose government was also battling Afghanistan? Did Lebanese fight each other in an indigenously inspired civil war? Did Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanese forces fight and kill Palestinians, and vice-versa, though both sides included Arabs and usually Muslims? Did Arab and Muslim Algerians murder each other in another civil war?

Even with the existence of an Arab-Israeli conflict, most of the battles in the region have been between Muslim and Arab parties. Sometimes the United States took sides in these conflicts. There was nothing "anti-Muslim" or "anti-Arab" in this policy. Ironically, Usama bin Ladin’s main anger arose from the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia starting in 1990. Yet this action was not only to protect Saudi Arabia and to free Kuwait from an Iraqi threat, it was sanctioned by a vote of the Arab League. Ironically, the grievance most closely associated with bin Ladin’s turn to an anti-American strategy and the September 11 attacks was clearly based on a U.S. action that was pro-Arab and pro-Muslim.
The claim of anti-American grievances also arises out of the myth that "real" Arabs or "real" Muslims" must support revolutionary causes. All Arabs supposedly wish for a militant Arab nationalist government. All Muslims should want a "fundamentalist" Islamist regime. So if these forces do not take power, it could not possibly be because the masses don’t want them or the governments fight effectively against them. The true factor ensuring the success of the "counterrevolution" must be the United States.

This situation also poses an insoluble dilemma for U.S. policy common to all great powers. If the United States supports and aids a government like that of Egypt, it can be accused of sabotaging revolutionary movements that seek to overthrow that regime. But if the United States opposes any given Arab government, or presses it to be more democratic or tolerant of human rights, it can be accused of meddling in domestic affairs and thus of acting in an imperialist manner against the Arabs.

In fact, though, the United States only played a very limited role in the internal conflicts that pitted radical Islamist revolutionaries against Middle Eastern regimes in the 1980s and 1990s. Equally, during Iran’s Islamist revolution in 1978, the United States did not intervene in Iran and therefore in effect restrained the shah from taking a tougher line with the opposition that was overthrowing him. This passivity was due to internal debates in the administration and hope that a moderate government might emerge, but that doesn’t change the fact that the United States did little to prevent Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s triumph.

Once the revolution succeeded, President Jimmy Carter sought to conciliate the new regime. It was indeed the growing contacts between the United States and moderate elements in the new government that led to the seizure of the American embassy in November 1979. The United States was such an immediate threat not because it tried to bring down Khomeini but because, at most, it sought to influence the revolution to be less radical. However one interprets past U.S. policy toward Iran--including grievances arising from the 1953 coup against a secular government--American policy in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Iran wasn’t even consistently or energetically anti-radical Islamist much less anti-Islam. During the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration was even ready to sell arms to Tehran in order to build an alliance with the Islamist regime there.

In retrospect, American "counterrevolutionary" involvement in the Arab world was extremely limited. Arab regimes neither wanted nor needed U.S. help to fight and defeat Islamist insurgents. In Algeria, which was the sole exception to this pattern, the United States maintained a deliberate policy of neutrality, despite the Algerian government’s attempt to get help. The purpose of this strategy was to avoid offending Muslims. Despite the dispatch of U.S. Marines in 1982, the United States played no important role in Lebanon’s civil war.

Even in Jordan, arguably the most consistent U.S. ally in the Arab world, the regime maintained itself internally without much U.S. help or involvement. Indeed, far from trying to appease a bullying America, King Hussain followed the demands of domestic radical forces in 1990 to support Iraq while America was at war with that regime but suffered no U.S. pressure or punishment as a result.) Indeed, it was Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which denied Jordan aid, while the United States tried to persuade them to forgive and help Amman.

Of course, the Islamists are quite willing to forget the fact that the most ruthless suppression of Islamist revolutions took place in two anti-American states--Syria and Iraq. Elsewhere, Arab regimes proved capable of repressing, outmaneuvering or coopting Islamists without any U.S. involvement, aid, or advice. Even if the United States had totally ignored the Middle East during the 1980s or 1990s it is doubtful that a single additional Islamist revolution would have succeeded.

Compared to Europe, Latin America and Asia, U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern domestic conflicts to preserve existing regimes was positively miniscule. In Europe, the Marshall plan and other policies did help defeat Communism in the late 1940s. In Latin America, there were periodic interventions and massive support for the local militaries, focusing on internal security efforts. In Asia, there were the Korean and Vietnam wars plus other direct and active counterinsurgency and covert efforts, as well as the long-term presence of huge U.S. bases.

Again ironically, the deepest and only really direct involvement in a battle between regimes and Islamists took place in Afghanistan, where the United States actually took the side of Islamist forces to battle the Soviets. Indeed, it would be more accurate to accuse bin Ladin of being a U.S. "collaborator" than it would be to make such charges against Arab regimes. Bin Ladin cooperated with American intelligence in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and worked with those receiving U.S. arms and training to serve Washington’s Cold War goals. And the victory over Moscow that bin Ladin claimed proved the efficacy of Islamist thinking and radicalism was in no small part due to American arms, equipment, money, and training.

As Professor Fawaz Gerges has accurately noted: "Radical Islamists blame the U.S. for their defeat at the hands of the pro-U.S. Arab regimes. They claim that the West, particularly the U.S., tipped the balance of power in favor of secular regimes by providing them with decisive political and logistical support." (2) But this does not mean that the claim is true. U.S. counterrevolutionary involvement or intervention--with the exceptions of Iran in 1953 and perhaps Lebanon in 1958--remained quite limited. The real reason these revolutions failed was because the local regimes defeated them, the masses didn’t support them, and the militants were not very competent.

But one could also put it this way: If radical nationalist or Islamist revolutions had not been stopped in Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, people in those countries today would be as happy and prosperous as those in Iraq, Syria, Iran are under their "revolutionary" regimes and Kuwait would have been under permanent Iraqi annexation.

Note: For a systematic presentation of arguments condemning U.S. policy, made after the September 11 attacks, see Cameron Brown, "The Shot Seen Around the World: The Middle East Reacts to September 11th," MERIA Journal, Vol. 5, Number 4 (December 2001) .

(1) For a detailed discussion of these attitudes, see the author’s books, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1982); Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran (NY: Oxford University Press, 1980); and The Great Powers in the Middle East 1941-1947: The Road to Cold War (London: Frank Cass, 1981).
(2) Fawaz Gerges, "The Tragedy of Arab-American Relations," Christian Science Monitor (September 18, 2001).

This article is excerpted from Barry Rubin's"The Truth About U.S. Middle East Policy" and was published by the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal (Volume 5, No. 4 - December 2001). For a free subscription to MERIA Journal, write gloria@idc.ac.il. To see all previous issues and MERIA materials visit http://meria.idc.ac.il and http://gloria.idc.ac.il.


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Amin Ali Golmohamad - 6/7/2006

So if the world consensus was that the US was being taken over by Christian fundementalists with capitalistic inclinations they would be expected to free the US from impending hell?

(Given the background history of extremist governments I would rather live in a communist state anyway)

Amin Ali Golmohamad - 6/7/2006

It's probably been talked to death...

"misrepresented the history and nature of U.S. Middle East policy to the point where it has become a caricature of reality"

The mere existence of Israel with the policies it follows cause the following outrages in the Mid-east:

- Millions of displaced civilians, whose land and possessions have been confiscated with no recompense

- These civilians live in squalid conditions and israel refuses to recognise them or their property

- The USA backs this oppressive regime and keeps it equipped and funded to continue this

The USA does not come up with "peace-deals" that in any way alleviate the gross injustice, so they are unacceptable. Arab states voice this and receive little heed. Some people in the middle east don't like this, so they go to the US and blow stuff up to get their attention to take them seriously. They are labelled as terrorists because they kill civilians. When the USA or Israel kills civilians, it is collateral damage and they somehow salvage the moral highground.

Another Truth Seeker - 4/21/2003

"And in this context, U.S. leaders also feared that the Iranian government of Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh was being taken over by Communist forces." Even if this were a legimate fear, since when is fear a justification for immoral acts?"

110,000,000 people killed under the thumb of communist dictatorsin the last 100 years. I think anyone with half a brain will agree that whatever thing was done to stop such atrocities was justifiable...

Steve Brody - 1/29/2003

John, I can only go on the reporting vis-a vis the deal that Clinton brokered. It was widely reported to include 95 % of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and the removal of almost all of the Jewish settlements from the West Bank. For reasons that are not clear, Arafat rejected the deal, withdrew from the talks, and started IntifadaII. These are the facts as I understand them.

Given these facts, I have little sympathy for the Palistinian leadership. I also must say, John, that for Palistinians to wire their children up as human bombs and then send them out to kill Israeli children is an ambomination.

Given that you believe my statement regarding "no direct involvement with the Palistinians" is absurd, can you explain what you consider our "direct involvement " to be?

John Knight - 1/29/2003

Mr. Brody,

I must apologise. You evidently did not get the irony in my remarks. I don't for one moment think this is the authors stance. I was merely using this as a ploy to demonstrate that they had not discussed Palestine at all.

Indeed you are correct to suggest that to provide the Palestinians with, apparently hundreds of millions of dollars is not immoral, neither is it immoral to provide Israel with billions of dollars.

But the discrepency in ammount neatly corresponds to Americas's policies and illustrates the imbalance of effort. Indeed America has been the broker of peace, but to what extent has it been impartial?

To say that 'It may be that we really have had no direct involvement with the Palistinians' is as absurd as saying that the US has had no involvement with Israel. In effect, by saying the former you are suggesting the latter too.

Best regards,
John Knight

Steve Brody - 1/20/2003

I don't follow your logic. How can you presume that by not adressing our involvement with Palistines that the author considers the US to have acted immorally?

It may be that we really have had no direct involvement with the Palistinians (except to provide them with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid). I don't consider that to be immoral.

We have also tried to broker "peace deals" with the Palistinians, all for nought. I don't consider that to be immoral.

We have provided Israel with aid, but I don't consider that immoral, either.

John Knight - 1/19/2003


But even if you disagree, surely it is remarkable that in a survey of US involvement in the Middle East, Palestine is
completely absent. One wonders why: presumably, by default, we can assume tnat the authors consider the US to have acted immorrally there.

Steve Brody - 1/16/2003

I guess this falls in the category of "pithy comments", but I'm not sure what you're driving at. Do you wish to make a case that the US has acted immorally in regards to the Palistinians?

John Knight - 1/16/2003

Is it not significant that the word 'Palestine' was not mentioned once in this article?

Steve Brody - 1/14/2003

Gus, are you really arguing that the EU's decision to fight with us in the Gulf War had nothing to do with securing their oil supply? What rubbish. That some EU countries have better relations with some Muslim countries is not at issue. I happen to believe that much of this has to do with a shared history of anti-semitism. What is clear is that EU did not "secure their oil supplies through respectful relations", as you assert, but rather through force of arms.

Your suggestion that UBL killed all those Australians by mistake strains credulity. What has been ascertained (and widely reported) is that the night club targeted in Bali was well known to be frequented by Aussies and that the Al Qaeda operative who set the bomb was a Bali native who must have been aware of this. As for Australian support for US policies, what support? Australian troops have not been reported to be significant participants in our military operations in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

What is clear to me is that what you call "western intervention" is really commerce and foreign aid. What UBL is really fighting is western presence and cultural encroachment. If you want to know what UBL's vision of what Muslim nations should be, just look at Taliban controlled Afghanistan, where a women learning to read could expect a bullet in the head if she were discovered.

Gus, your timing on Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq is off. He didn't visit until 12/83. Hussein attacked Iran during the Carter administration without any help from Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld's assistance in restoring relations with Iraq is well known. Your assertion that the Iran/Iraq war occurred because of some "connivance" of Rumsfeld's is ludicrous.

Gus Moner - 1/12/2003

The entire EU may have fought in the Gulf War. The issues there were territorial integrity, not oil or regime change. Besides the EU, plenty of others participated or agreed with the war. However, some nations’ participation does not obviate the fact that the EU’s relations with Muslim nations are much better.

You say that UBL attacked us because of our interference in the "organization of Muslim nations"? I guess he killed hundreds of Australians in Bali because of Australia's blatant interference in the "organisation of Muslim nations".

I say that the grievance of UBL and his fellow travellers is based on western interference. No one knows for certain what the Bali attackers had in mind. Nothing has been ascertained yet. Did they expect to kill more US citizens? Is Australia a target due to its support of US policies?

Rumsfeld paved the way to the restoration of diplomatic relations and military cooperation. Much has been written on that topic for me to copy it here. Look it up. Or have him reply.

Truth Seeker - 1/12/2003

The title of this piece clearly indicates that it will set out
to demonstrate that the U.S. has not "really" acted immorally,
an absurd thesis in regard to anyone, since we all act immorally
at times, and particularly in regard to a powerful state.
But then the piece fails to evaluate actions in *moral* terms
at all -- I have to wonder if Mr. Rubin is actually personally
familiar with the concept. Consider this gem:
"And in this context, U.S. leaders also feared that the Iranian government of Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh was being taken over by Communist forces." Even if this were a legimate fear,
since when is fear a justification for immoral acts? But of
course it isn't a legitmate fear, any more than today's policy toward Iraq is a consequence of a legitimate fear of Iraq
obtaining or deploying nuclear weapons. Such claims of fear
are for consumption by the masses, or intellectually dishonest
folks like Barry Rubin.

Steve Brody - 1/12/2003

Gus, why do you continue to make assertions that are demonstrably false? The "entire EU " fought along side us in the Gulf War (as you know) and did not secure their energy supplies "without the use of weapons". And India gets along with Muslim nations? Are you serious?

You say that UBL attacked us because of our interference in the "organization of Muslim nations"? I guess he killed hundreds of Australians in Bali because of Australia's blatant interference in the "organisation of Muslim nations".

If you are going to blame Rumsfeld's connivance for Hussein's decision to attack Iran, you really should be prepared to offer something other than your bare assertion.

Gus Moner - 1/10/2003

I agree with your evaluation of the holes in the argument posed by Mr Rubin. Curiously, Usama has never railed against the US way of life, freedom or whatever. He concentrates his diatribe on the interference by US governments in the organisation of Muslim nations. But the Bush explanation was, perhaps, the only one he could get a grip on. Don’t forget just that 20 years ago last December or November, Rumsfeld was in Baghdad conniving with Hussein to wage war on Iran.

It is necessary to understand the level of US interference in the Middle East and the common person’s dislike of it, to understand why ‘they don’t like us’. Once we act to ameliorate these grievances we’ll get a lot more support. Why is it that other nations like China, India, the entire EU, etc. manage to get on with these people and secure their energy supplies through respectful relationships? What do we do differently that causes the aggravation in these nations? What can we change? These are the questions that when answered, can lead to policy proposals the government now lacks in order to secure more peaceful relationships and energy supplies without the use of weapons.

Jeffery Thomas - 1/9/2003

Mr. Rubin begins by suggesting he wishes to lay to rest the mistaken assumptions of those who sought to 'somehow justify or explain' the terrorist attacks of September, 2001, as though these are pretty much the same thing. Yep, anybody who seeks to explain acts of terror is pretty close to justifying them, don't you think? Besides, the President has chosen to explain the whole thing in three words, 'they hate freedom', and any patriotic American should be satisfied with that, don't you think?
This is not a thoughtful analysis of the relationship between U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the current horror of Islamic extremist terrorism, unless somehow all the original material refering to oil has been edited for 'clarity'. Of course no American politician has proclaimed anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bias over the past fifty years. Actions speak much louder than words across any cultural or linguistic barrier. The author's disclaimer that he does not wish to imply that the U.S. has not made mistakes in policy toward the Middle East is not followed within the narrative by any examples of such mistakes. This article then becomes exactly the opposite of what it proposes to be in the sense that it seeks to explain away any and all complaints that Arabs and/or Muslims may have toward U.S. policy as 'somehow mistaken', rather than to confront the issues raised by American dependence on Middle East oil and the bias (understandable and reasonable) displayed historically toward the state of Israel. Yes, we Americans really do believe in the values of our nation's founding documents, but our national government has rarely felt shy about compromising them whenever it seemed to suit our national interests. High-minded rhetoric aside, for example, Saddam Hussein was cynically left in power by the Bush/Cheney/Powell regime because it met with certain of our national interests, even after they (or at least Mr. Bush) had publicly called him another Hitler.
Forget the Islamic extremists of the Al-Queda ilk. They believe what they believe and, as fanatics, are best explained in the context of fanaticism, which is not a recent phenomenon. Widespread unhappiness with U.S. policy in the Middle East on the part of educated Muslims with the best of intentions should be understood and responded to, and, yes, explained to Americans, so that we are world leaders with moral authority for the people who have suffered from the Usamas and Saddams much more than we have, or are likely to. "Hey, you got us all wrong... we're the good guys!" hardly qualifies as scholarly analysis.