Dealing with resentments that underlie Mideast terrorism
Once more the United States official presence in Beirut has been the target of a brutal attack. Once more we are expressing outrage - and asking questions. Why us?
It is hard for Americans to accept that there are those who hate us bitterly. The feelings may be unjustified or misplaced, but they are none the less real. In no region are there more such seeds of exploitable resentment than exist in the eastern Mediterranean.
One measure of our problem and our frustration is that we do not know with certainty what person or group lies behind this and other attacks. We can only speculate. Retaliation might relieve our frustration, but even if we know the perpetrators, actions against fanatics may only stimulate a further cycle of vengeance.
Terrorism in the Middle East may be fanatical, but it is not insane. To those who take such actions, there is a purpose. That purpose springs from antipathies so deep that men and women will lead with enthusiasm to suicide attacks.
To us such acts seem insane. It is not easy for us to understand or to get a full appreciation of the depth of feeling in the Middle East where people tend so often to tell us what we want to hear. Only those who have heard some Arabs and Iranians express their true feelings can grasp the nature of such motivation.
We are not the only victims. Neither is this a new phenomenon.
The earliest attacks on our diplomatic missions in the Middle East go back to the late 1940s. The French and the British have at various times also been victims. It is the magnitude, the sophistication and our seeming helplessness that make the current attacks seem more devastating and exasperating than ever before.
It is too facile to suggest that the resentment that breeds such attacks comes primarily from the Middle East policies of this US administration or any of its predecessors. It is true that feelings aroused by our strong support for Israel, deepened by reactions to recent Israeli moves and strengthened US-Israeli cooperation are one wellspring of strong anti-American sentiment. Our identification with Israel arouses deep Arab feelings of humiliation, hopelessness, and bitterness, particularly among those moderate Arabs who consider our friendship important.
But there are numerous other sources of resentment. In an area where conspiratorial theories abound, it is easy for our adversaries, whoever they may be, to identify the United States with the vicious acts of enemies.
Revolutionary Iranians associate us with SAVAK, the Shah's intelligence organization. Shias in Lebanon blame us for Christian dominance, Palestinians for the Israeli occupation. One group of Christians associates us with the power of rivals.
In the divided Arab world, one side sees our hand in the machinations of adversaries. Underneath it all, particularly in conservative Muslim societies, we are identified with the assault on traditional cultures. Much of the radical fundamentalism springs from a resentment against Western cultural influences with which we are primarily associated.
The breakup of Lebanon and the anarchy of Beirut provide perfect settings for the terrorist acts that spring from these resentments. Does this mean that we should leave Beirut? That is exactly what our adversaries wish.
We cannot, as a great nation with historic and continuing interests in the region and in Lebanon, be forced out by such acts. We can build more secure embassies, but keeping in mind that security is not built in a day - or even a year - and can never be perfect if diplomacy is to be carried on.
We can weigh carefully our policies in the area in the light of regional sentiments, but we can never adjust them totally to meet those sentiments. We support Israel and will continue to do so. We have our global security interests. We cannot change our influence and image as a nation. We will clearly not be deterred from our pursuit of what we consider our interests.
We face in Lebanon a form of warfare more frustrating, tragic, and mysterious than any we have ever faced. We stay there at a cost, but the cost of an abrupt withdrawal could be even greater.