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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Make a Case Before Making War II

Support for U.S. President George W. Bush's call to arms against terrorism is falling short of that his father received 11 years ago at the start of the Gulf War. Then, the majority at an Arab summit joined the U.S. coalition that defeated Iraq, another member of the Arab League.

But unlike the Gulf War's clear aims of defeating Saddam Hussein and liberating Kuwait, which were achieved seven months later, the aims of Bush the younger's undertaking are far from clear, and the enemy hasn't been sharply defined.

"Who will America fight in Afghanistan?" screamed a recent front-page headline in a Cairo newspaper, which ran with a picture of starving Afghan refugees.

With regard to Arab opinion, the Bush administration's hands-off approach to the deteriorating situation between the Palestinians and Israelis hasn't helped. Arab regimes have nodded approvingly as Arab journalists attacked Israel and the United States -- attacks that provide a diversion from their own violations of human rights and undemocratic ways. Anti-American propagandists have been given a great opportunity to make their case to the Arab masses that Israel and the United States are acting in concert. They neglect, of course, to remind those who celebrated the appalling attacks on the United States that U.S. taxpayers actually have been helping to feed and house them.

Even in moderate Middle Eastern nations ruled by pro-American governments, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, journalists refer to suicide bombers -- regardless of their targets -- as "martyrs," while speaking highly critically of U.S. policy. The current U.S. rhetoric and the use of the word "terrorists" instead of "terrorism" is also criticized by many Arab commentators. One of them, in a Kuwaiti paper, accused the United States of a double standard for accepting Israel's labeling of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters as "terrorists" when they "fought against uniformed Israeli soldiers occupying part of their country, while Israel's helicopter attacks with American-made missiles to assassinate a Palestinian activist in a block of flats, which also killed a schoolboy, were not called terrorism."

The anti-Americanism, which has increased greatly since the "Palestinian Intifada" began a year ago, has been evident in popular Arab media for years.

Unfortunately for the United States, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long ago became the fulcrum upon which the political equilibrium of the Middle East rests and the lens through which Arab opinion-makers view international politics.

"America had a golden opportunity to improve its image in the Islamic world," said a recent editorial in the Cairo daily Al-Guomhoria, which supports Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, "but unwisely wasted it by siding with Israel against the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim nations."

The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt have both suffered from the acts of Islamic fundamentalist terror groups, including bin Laden's gang, and would -- in private -- welcome an alliance with America as an opportunity to destroy organizations that assist terrorists. "But they can't openly take part in a coalition that includes Israel, as it would be seen in the region as furthering Israeli aims," said a top Egyptian diplomat who has recently been in consultation with Saudi Arabians.

Are the Saudis' fears well grounded? Perhaps they're looking at Egypt, where the religious establishment seems to be out of the government's control. Most of its 1,000 imams ignored requests to hold special services in Egyptian mosques for the victims of the terror attacks, even though four Egyptians have been confirmed among the dead in the World Trade Center.

Abel Darwish, a British journalist, has covered the Middle East for 30 years. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.