When the golden dome
of the Askariya shrine, a holy Shiite site in Iraq, was blown
up last week, enraged militias did not attack American bases but
rather went after Sunni extremists who, they privately believed,
were the real culprits.
How could that have
been when clerics loudly railed to the cameras that the United
States was the perpetrator?
despite its hatred of the U.S. and unabashed pride in its terrorist
suicide bombers, suddenly seeks victim status when Washington
plans to cut Palestinian financial assistance.
If America is so terrible,
why would Hamas want its tainted money?
On any given day,
the state-run media of the Middle East publish vile anti-Semitism
and various slanders against the West. With such an unapologetic
assault on Western values, why then would thousands riot when
an obscure Danish publication runs a few tasteless cartoons caricaturing
And why would Western
crassness be surprising to radical Muslims anyway, given their
constant harangue that we are decadent and should be shunned?
One answer to these
paradoxes is that though scorn of the United States may be a public
sport, most abroad privately value American financial support
— thus acknowledging the often positive global role the
United States plays.
The honor-bound Middle
East's leadership is obsessed with the West in general, and the
United States in particular. It desperately seeks our undivided
attention, and yet resents deeply that this very desire reflects
either dependence or hidden admiration.
So Shiite clerics
know that the United States freed them from Saddam Hussein, sponsored
democracy and has offended most of the Sunni Middle East in supporting
the Shiite right to self-representation. Yet gratitude to the
infidel cannot be altogether pleasant for a once-proud but recently
Hamas leaders desperately
want a U.S. secretary of state to sanction their government and
give them a status they routinely deride.
Likewise, Middle Eastern
media outlets practice a particular behavior for themselves while
insisting on quite another one for others — expecting, like
troubled teenagers, to be offensive and touchy at the same time.
There are other explanations
for this apparent asymmetry that transcends the usual alternating
of envy and hostility toward the more powerful and influential.
The Middle East has
grasped that its oil warps our own morality and makes us put up
with such psychological puerility. Autocratic regimes that often
subsidize jihadists claim they fight them in an attempt to win
American attention — in the manner that odious right-wing
dictatorships used to assure us that they were our friends because
they were at least staunchly anti-communist.
But there is another
rarely discussed reason that a two-faced Middle East feels it
can be both savagely critical and needy of the U.S. We idealistic
American people are ourselves also hypersensitive, but in a different
way: We want to be liked at all costs.
Castigate an average
American overseas for his support of democratic Israel and he
will often apologize rather than cite America's aid to Jordan,
the Palestinian Authority or Egypt — much less the liberation
of Kuwait, feeding of Somalia and saving of Muslims in Bosnia
We can see this strange
psychological American need in the old conundrum over whether
the United States is "hated." Rarely do we specify "detested
The theocracy in Iran?
Wahhabis in the Gulf?
Sheiks who pump oil
for $5 a barrel and sell it for $60?
Perhaps decades of
well-meant multiculturalism have made us forget that all cultures,
sadly, are not equal — and how rare Western liberality and
tolerance are, both in the past and present.
To remedy such anxiety,
we need not advance American exceptionalism as chauvinism. Nor
do we need to gratuitously remind theocracies, dictatorships,
communist states and autocracies how cruel and corrupt they are
to their own.
But still, Americans
should develop a greater confidence to accept that we are not
liked abroad in large part for good reasons — having had
to so often fight those who wished to destroy our liberalism,
from Hitler and Mussolini to Saddam and bin Laden.
In the case of Iraq,
America ended a murderous regime, took no oil, gave billions of
dollars in aid and plans to leave as soon as a democracy can replace
a dethroned dictatorship. While that apparently makes us loathed
by many in the Middle East, it is nothing we should or will apologize
Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and
author of A
War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian