How to win enemies

It seems that, in the early phase of war on Iraq, the Pentagon planners and their cheer-leaders in the main stream media used the phrase “Shock and Awe” prematurely. The entire world is now in “Shock and Awe” over the despicable video images of an American being beheaded and those abhorrent photos of Iraqi prisoner abuses by U.S. soldiers at the notorious Saddam Hussein's notorious Abu Ghraib prison. The so-called liberators of Iraq have made a mockery of freedom, democracy, international law, human rights, and justice.

The post 9-11 period has been emotionally depressing and has become even more stressful as the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy continues and atrocities of war in Afghanistan and Iraq unfold. The shocking mistreatment of Iraqi captives clashes with what President George W. Bush and his team have repeatedly promised to the Afghanis, Iraqis, and the world: to root out terrorism, demolish the outlaw groups and their resources, turn Iraq and Afghanistan into model democracies in the Middle East, promote and uphold human rights, and make America and the rest of the world safe. Not surprisingly, the administration's unrealistic dreams have turned into real nightmares.

We live in an age of hypocrisy and contradictions in which truth and logical reasoning has been replaced by mendacity and illogic. Remember the false premises used by Tony Blair and George W. Bush prior to their invasion of Iraq? Those arguments held that Saddam possessed, without any doubt, an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, that he was the most dangerous terrorist in the world, and had ties with Al-Qaeda.

From the initial US-UK military bombardment of Iraq to the latest military abuses of Abu Ghraib prisoners, the war on Iraq has proven to be an intellectual, political, moral, and cultural catastrophe. Based on mounting anti-Americanisms, tensions, killings, revenge, and continued destructions in Iraq, America and the world now appear to be less safe than ever before.

As revealed in several opinion polls, the U.S. image around the world is currently at its lowest level, especially among the Arab nations and Moslems. The pre-emptive war on Iraq has not only alienated friends and won more enemies for America, but has made it much easier for outlaw groups to recruit new members. The U.S. is contributing to the malevolent efforts of such groups by providing them needed fuel, free publicity, an array of convincing reasons, and opportunities for attracting deeply committed new fighters. The US has done this by:

1. Abusing the Abu Ghraib prisoners and humiliating men and women in scenes that are depicted in pornographic media (a highly un-Islamic and forbidden act),
2. Insulting the cultural and moral sensitivities of Moslems around the world,
3. Invading Moslem homes and terrifying women, children and the elderly,
4. Storming into homes with their boots in a culture that does not permit anyone to enter a holy place or home with street shoes,
5. Pressing their boots on the chests or heads of arrested Iraqis which is culturally, the most insulting act,
6. Searching women and girls in a culture in which females are expected to cover themselves from the eyes of strangers,
7. Entering mosques and holy places, with boots and rifles, when non-believers are not normally even permitted to enter, and
8. Ignoring International laws, including the Geneva Convention on handling prisoners of war.

In an interview with Arab TV satellite channels, on May 5, 2004, President Bush said that the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by some members of the U.S. troops was “abhorrent” and the people of Iraq “must understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.” I concur with his remarks and add that the despicable and inhumane beheading of an American by a fringe group does not represent (nor is condoned by) the majority of Moslems, Arabs, and Middle Easterners in general.

Likewise, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America does not represent the views and sentiments of 1.3-billion Moslems in the world. It is quite ironic and very sad that many people, including the mass media, often generalize the actions of a fringe minority to an entire population.

In the final analysis, action always speaks louder than words.  Hence, the photos of “peace keepers” and “liberators” deliberately and methodically abusing and torturing Iraqi prisoners shatter any hope for a safer future and a democratic Iraq. Hypocrisy won't bring democracy. What President Bush claims and what has so far happened in Iraq are contradictory.

By the way, no comparison should be made between the actions of the outlaw groups who do not stand for “freedom,” “democracy,” “rule of law,” and “human rights,” and the only superpower of the world that stands for those ideals and is expected to uphold the essence of its constitution and the highest regard for individual dignity and equality. You cannot expect an outlaw group acts like a state and no state should act like an outlaw. America is wounded and its global image seriously damaged.

But it is not too late for this great nation to correct its course of action and, once again, apply Dale Carnegie's principles of “how to win friends and influence people,” rather than the current and damaging principles of “how to win enemies and alienate friends.”  The world is in dire need of a genuine and humane role model. America is on the world stage and its every movement is under constant scrutiny by billions of tearful and hopeful eyes. History has proven that it is impossible to win the battle for the “hearts and minds” of any people by force. Submission through force is not certainly the same as submission through good will.

It is also time to restore the credibility of the United Nations. It is time for the wounded American eagle to swallow its pride (as it did in Vietnam and Somalia), return home to recoup and reassess its vision, revise its “new world order” strategy, and take a more realistic look at the complexities of our world. It is time for the US politicians to realize that their dreams of achieving global hegemony by military force, fighting terrorism with terror, creating a safe global environment, and exporting democracy are easier said than done. It is time to let the Iraqis, under the UN auspices, determine the future of Iraq. Self-determination is the best gift that the US can give to the Iraqi people.

Yahya R. Kamalipour, PhD, is professor of mass communication and head of the Department of Communication and Creative Arts, Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, Indiana. He is editor of the book, Global Communication (Wadsworth, 2002) and editor-in-chief of Global Media Journal. His most recent book — War, Media, and Propaganda — will be released in this month by Rowman & Littlefield. Personal web site:

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