Arabs View US: Clumsy Hegemon? Noble Cop? ; as Bush Continues Urging a Preemptive Strike against Iraq, Arabs Question Broader US Goals in the Region

Article excerpt

Hamid, a Qatari fisherman, has some advice for US President George W. Bush: "Get your big fish, but don't kill all the minnows when you cast your big net," he says over a cup of tea as the sun sets on dozens of wooden dhows lining this small port on the Persian Gulf. "At least, this time go after Saddam Hussein - and get him, but you don't need to kill tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers as you did in 1991."

The burly fisherman, who preferred to give only his first name, voiced concern for Hussein's foot soldiers and Iraqi civilians, saying: "Hey, we are all Arabs, and we like the Iraqi people - they are good people."

The Qatari fisherman's views typify the confusion in the Arab world over the broader goals and objectives of US foreign policy. As it continues to plan possible military action against Iraq, the Bush administration issued a 33-page document late last week outlining its new doctrine for preemptive strikes against threatening foes.

While Hussein himself is far from popular, many here in the Arab world worry about the broader direction of American policy. "Arabs respect force, and if you go in and take out Saddam Hussein powerfully and cleanly, there won't be much to object to, but it is the bigger issues of war and peace that bother many in the Arab world," says Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies, who recently returned from a tour of the Middle East.

What many Arabs want - first and above all - is peace in the Middle East. They question why Washington - which many consider the only power capable of putting an end to ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East - has not yet tackled the fighting in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, but now wants to open a new front in its war on terror - a struggle they worry could spark far greater instability.

"Right now, the US is behaving like a bull in the china shop," says Mawafak Tawfik, an Iraqi writer and journalist, who was deprived of his Iraqi citizenship several years ago.

"Many Arabs are saying that the US has finally gone crazy," Mr. Tawfik says, "but if Washington really spoke of regional disarmament, all of us would be happy to go along."

Washington's eagerness for a regime change in Baghdad has heightened a mood of anti-Americanism across the Gulf region, particularly in fundamentalist Islamic circles.

In a typical view alleging a US-led conspiracy, Egyptian Yousuf Al Qaradawi, tiny Qatar's most prominent Islamic cleric, charges that the US plans against Iraq are all about helping Washington's ally, Israel.

"They want to actually wipe out Iraq to help Israel," he tells his followers during a sermon held in the country's largest mosque. …