American Views Shifting on the Middle East

The latest from Global Ethics Fellow Rami Khouri:

This week has seen the publication of a poll-based study entitled “Americans on the Middle East: A Study of American Public Opinion,” headed by Dr. Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull, of the University of Maryland’s Anwar Sadat Chair and the Program on International Policy Attitudes. They explored how Americans across the board felt about several key, current issues in the Middle East, including the Libyan and Egyptian governments, foreign aid, Iran, Syria, and the importance of U.S. relations with the Muslim world and dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. The nationally representative poll (conducted September 27-October 2, 2012) found several key findings:

1. Most Americans believe the attacks against American diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya were the work of extremist minorities and were not supported by majorities in those countries. But majorities of Americans also feel the Arab governments did not try to protect the missions.

2. A substantially increased majority of Americans wants to reduce aid to Egypt. Overall, a modest majority has an unfavorable view of Egypt and a large majority an unfavorable view of Libya.

3. Americans continue to see U.S. relations with the Muslim world and the Arab-Israeli conflict as a major priority, and a minority favors American disengagement from the Middle East. A plurality favors continuing to support democracy, even if it leads to a less friendly government, though this support has diminished a bit as perceptions of Arab uprisings have come to be increasingly seen as influenced by Islamists seeking power.

4. Majorities continue to say that it is possible for the West and the Muslim world to find common ground, and to attribute the conflicts between Islam and the West to political rather than cultural or religious factors. 

5. Most Americans believe that an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program would do little or nothing to slow down Iran’s nuclear program, that it would lead to Iran striking American bases and draw the United States into a war with Iran, drastically increase the price of oil and worsen America’s military and strategic position in the Middle East. A slight majority favors taking a neutral stance toward the possibility of Israel carrying out such a strike.

6. Majorities of Americans favor the United States, jointly with its allies, increasing diplomatic and economic sanctions against Syria and imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, though majorities oppose providing arms and supplies to anti-government groups, bombing Syrian air defenses, or sending U.S. troops into Syria.

The heartening news in this study is that Americans may be adopting more nuanced and realistic views towards people and events in the Middle East, based on events on the ground and actual national self-interest -- rather than the combination of ideological manipulation, widespread ignorance, lingering anger, and presumptuous paternalism and militarism that drove so many American attitudes about the Middle East in past decades. This is also certainly the impression I get from speaking with many Americans these days.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.

Copyright © 2012 Rami G. Khouri -- distributed by Agence Global

[PHOTO CREDIT: Daryl Fritz (CC).]

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Tags: GEF, aid, diplomacy, peace, war

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