Debating the Source and Scope of Anti-Americanism

September 6, 2002
CTV Television, Inc. CANADA AM
ANCHOR: Lisa LaFlamme
GUEST: Col. Bill Taylor [Ret.], International Security Affairs Analyst; Hussein Ibish, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; John Kirton, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.
LaFLAMME: As reports of anti-American sentiment rise, the US State Department is trying to find out why. It’s holding a secretive, closed-door conference that hopes to discover why these feelings of hatred are held by so many people right around the world. Joining us now to address this from Washington is Col. Bill Taylor, former vice-president of the Centre for Strategic Intelligence Studies, and Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Here in our studio, a familiar face: John Kirton joins us, international affairs expert at the Munk Centre for International Studies.
Thanks to all three of you for joining us.
Col. Taylor, I want to start with you, if I can. If this is so important and the State Department and the US government wants to know so much the root, why is it a secret? Why isn’t this an open debate?
TAYLOR: Well, if you mean open debate to have the media in, I think the learning experience might be less. I think people would be less inclined to enter a legitimate debate and listen to each other. We don’t need any grandstanding, we need understanding.
LaFLAMME: Okay then. Hussein, I’m going to go to you next and ask you what you see as far as anti-American behaviour.
IBISH: Well, I think obviously if you’re going to be the world’s hyperpower and by far the strongest military and economic and in many ways political power — possibly in human history — obviously people are going to resent you. But that’s compounded, I think, by some of our unilateralist policies with regard to everything from land mines to steel tariffs to this notion of attacking Iraq. There’s a lot of opposition to a lot of our policies. And our government doesn’t seem to be interested in listening to too many other people. That promotes resentment. And in some cases, as obviously in the case of al-Qaeda and some extremist, murderous fanatics, it turns into real rage and hatred.
But I think one should be careful to distinguish between resentment over US policies and genuine hatred of America. I think the first is widespread and the second is still, thankfully, quite rare.
LaFLAMME: You’ve really covered on a lot of things there, Hussein. And we’re going to try break them down.
John, first of all, is it about American policy, American bravado, American envy?
KIRTON: Oh, I think it’s about some parts of American policy. And even here I think we have to put it in historical context. Back in the 1960s of course there were waves of violence across the democratic world and the United States itself about American foreign policy in Vietnam and elsewhere. In the 1980s, too. Hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. European governments immobilized. There’s none of that today. Even close to a year ago we heard that if the United States and its allies took forceful action against Afghanistan, Pakistan might fall to Islamic fundamentalism, maybe Egypt, Saudi Arabia. What about Turkey? None of that’s really happened. In fact, very few signs that the people of the democratic community and beyond really resent the United States at all.
LaFLAMME: Well, Hussein, I see you shaking your head there.
IBISH: Yeah, I agree with those comments about Afghanistan. I think that all warnings about a massive backlash in the Arab world becuase of the Afghan war were silly and overblown. Because I think it was understood in most of the world, even where people had serious misgivings, that the United States was thoroughly justified in attacking the people who had attacked it and those who harboured them.
I think the coming war with Iraq — or the announced war with Iraq — is going to be a completely different matter. And as a matter of fact, it’s going to play right into the hands of people like bin Laden and could possibly turn into a giant television advertisement for al- Qaeda.
LaFLAMME: Alright. So, Col. Taylor, I want you to jump in here because if it’s about understanding and the US really does care about understanding, then why doesn’t there appear to be much interest in whether the allies are supportive of a move against Iraq?
TAYLOR: There’s a great deal of interest in that, as a matter of fact. I wish my president — I’m a Republican, by the way, and voted for President Bush, know the members of his National Security Council — I wish they had started the open dialogue a little bit earlier, knowing there was going to be a debate about when/how/whether we should go to war against Iraq. But —
LaFLAMME: Do you really think the President wants debate on that? John, do you agree with that?
TAYLOR: The President may not have wanted it before, but he knows he has to accept it. And he’s doing it right now. We’ve just begun the debate. And, as Thomas Jefferson said, one of our founding fathers, “Debate is the essence of democracy.” Let’s get on with the debate.
KIRTON: Yeah, I think the President is actually handling it rather well. The new season is starting. People are focused on public affairs. He’s starting where he should: at the United Nations, Sept. 12. Because this is really about the United States being willing to take the lead to enforce international law, to enforce United Nations resolutions, to use all necessary means to get the weapons of mass destruction out of Iraq after the diplomatic and economic measures have failed. That’s the basic case —
IBISH: Well, this is not the way it’s going to be perceived in the Arab world where really the perception is going to be most important. In the Arab world really, unless a very different case is made than has been made until now — it has to be radically different, in fact — it’s going to be perceived as a naked aggression. And it’s going to play into the hands of the rhetoric of mad extremists like bin Laden who have been telling the Arab people: You’re being attacked just because you’re Arabs and just because you’re Muslims. And that the US plays a colonial role in the Middle East. So far, thankfully, the overwhelming majority of Arabs have dismissed that as ravings.
But I think this unprovoked attack on Iraq is going to do a lot to promote the views of bin Laden and, by the way, to get rid of another of his staunch enemies, the secular dictator Saddam Hussein. So it’s a win-win situation for al-Qaeda, and it’s a political blunder for the war against terrorism.
TAYLOR: But wait. Unprovoked attack?
IBISH: Yeah, of course.
TAYLOR: How do you define that?
IBISH: Well, Iraq has not done anything to deserve being attacked. It has not attacked anyone else.
TAYLOR: So you are of the camp that says: Wait and wait — until he actually does something to kill tens and hundreds of thousands?
IBISH: [laughs] No, I’m of the camp that says that the UN Charter does not allow you to launch an attack against a country, based on suspicions of something somebody might do in the future. And also, that this is a grand political blunder in the battle against terrorism. I’m interested in the war on terrorism. I want to see the al-Qaeda movement eradicated — exterminated. And this, in my view, is a gigantic political blunder that will make the war on terrorism much more difficult if not impossible.
LaFLAMME: Okay, John, I’m going to bring John Kirton in right now because from an outsider’s perspective — we’ve just heard from two Americans clearly with completely opposing views on this. From an outsider’s perspective, John, how do you view the move against Iraq? And what is that going to do to that anti-American sentiment, certainly even in the United States where there are seven million, I believe, Arab-Americans?
KIRTON: Well, starting in the region itself, I think the Arab world, many of whom supported those United Nations resolutions, realize that they’re the ones who are most likely to be attacked when Saddam Hussein gets weapons of mass destruction. He’s a four- time aggressor, he’s attacked Arab countries first. He used them against his own people — fellow Arabs. So they’re the ones who really know it’s their neck that’s on the line.
IBISH: So you should listen to them when they say: “don’t do it.”
KIRTON: The United States I really do think, the President does have to, as he is now doing, make the case, reveal some of the intelligence information that’s beginning to come out about systematic links between Iraqi intelligence and the al-Qaeda network. It seems to be just more than one little meeting in Czechoslovakia a year or so ago.
LaFLAMME: Col. Taylor, what is he waiting for? All week long — actually for the last two weeks — we’ve heard the President allude to this evidence that clearly must exist. What is he waiting for?
TAYLOR: One of the problems always is to give away publicly certain evidence — proof.
TAYLOR: You have to disclose your intelligence sources. And that can be a disaster.
IBISH: Look, this is absurd, Iraq has nothing to do with Al-Qaeda – this is a fairy tale, a conspiracy theory.
LaFLAMME: Okay. And that’s it for time. Obviously, we could continue. Thanks to all of you.

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