America’s image in the Middle East has been severely damaged by the recently publicized cases of torture and abuse in Iraqi prisons. American troops and personnel are put at risk due to the animosity strengthened by these actions. Most regrettable about the whole affair is that the mistakes could have been prevented; yet early warning signs were ignored.
Propaganda spread by Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida has portrayed America as an empire with the agenda to invade Islamic countries and suppress their people. Through blunders such as the recent ones, the Bush administration, aware of such propaganda, repeatedly commits mistakes that play right into such accusations. Because of such actions enemies the United States set out to fight, such as al-Qaida and Muqtada al-Sadr, now have it much easier to enlist new people, resist and actively fight U.S. troops.
Even though the administration knew about alleged cases of abuse as early as November, it did not act. Ignoring the signs undermined the efforts of troops working under already dangerous conditions to rebuild the country and send a symbolical message. To Iraqis it may now appear that Americans operate prisons such as Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib like Saddam Hussein’s regime used to.
In actuality U.S. forces do not wish to mimic Saddam’s methods, but it will be hard to convince the Arab world after the photos and reports make it appear as such.
Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was still arguing the fine points between “abuse” and “torture” when President George W. Bush appeared in two interviews televised on Arab stations. The president at first did not apologize to the Iraqi people and instead had his Press Secretary Scott McClellan apologize on his behalf during a White House press meeting. In doing so an opportunity was missed.
“Shock and Awe” may have defeated Iraq’s military but it will take different efforts to win over the general population. The president, Rumsfeld as well as the entire administration have to understand that empty rhetoric of “staying the course” will not be enough to win the Iraqi’s trust. Instead of harsh tactics, humility and respect for the Arab world and Islamic faith have to enter into the diplomatic vocabulary of U.S. leaders before the situation is inflamed even further.