A survey by ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller that chronicles the views of men and women between the ages of 18-24 in 16 Middle Eastern and North African countries was recently released, and it contains an interesting common thread.
In the countries where there’s been a great deal of military and political turmoil, youth view the United States negatively by an overwhelming margin.
In Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories – all of which have been embroiled in major conflicts – youth view the United States as an enemy as opposed to an ally by margins of 93%, 82%, and 81%, respectively.
On the other hand, youth in Arab nations with stronger economies and less military strife view the United States in a more favorable light. Young citizens of Arab Gulf states, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), collectively view the United States as an ally at a rate of 85%.
As Murtaza Hussain noted at The Intercept, “The results of the poll offer an interesting window into long-term perceptions of the Iraq War by Iraqis themselves. Advocates of the 2003 invasion often justified it by claiming post-Saddam Iraq would be an ally of U.S. interests in the region.”
Added Hussain, “Dick Cheney cited experts who claimed Iraqis would ‘erupt in joy’ over the invasion, predicting it would result in ‘strong bonds’ created between the two countries.”
“But years later, after hundreds of billions of dollars spent and more than a hundred thousand Iraqis dead, the United States is overwhelmingly considered an enemy by young men and women who were children when the war began.”
That view isn’t an entirely monolithic one, however. Rare spoke with Taif Jany, an Iraqi native who serves as the Program Manager for the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) in Washington, D.C. about this data, along with other issues that plague the Middle East.
Jany explained, “It is important to make the distinction between Iraqi perceptions of the U.S. government and Iraqi perceptions of the American people. The survey does not make this distinction clearly, and it does not ask about distrust, either – only whether the average young person considers the U.S. an ally.”
Jany makes an important point. It’s true that viewing a government negatively is not the same as viewing its people in that same light.
Said Jany, “As a young Iraqi, I can say that most of my friends like Americans and American culture very much, but have reservations about how much the U.S. government is doing to help make Iraq safe and prosperous again.”
“I hope most Americans would agree,” he added.
Rare also asked Jany what he believes accounts for the disparity in a country such as Iraq viewing the United States government as an ally versus opposite perceptions in the Gulf States.
“Iraq experienced a war. I think it’s that simple. Of course, there will be some hard feelings about the governments involved,” said Jany. “Trust me when I tell you that Iraqis are not sitting around Baghdad and other parts of the country lamenting the 2003 war and who is to blame for it. We are trying to move on and create a future.”
While a focus on blame may not be paramount, war-torn countries such as Iraq are in fact picking up their pieces. And the same sentiment about military conflict likely applies in Yemen.
What does this mean for the future of countries such as Iraq?
As Jany explained, “The present reality is that 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of violence, and over 10 million Iraqis are in immediate need of assistance – half of them are children. That is where the Iraqi government, Iraq’s allies, and those of us in the humanitarian sector need to focus our attention.”
This is certainly important, because whether or not the Iraq War of over a decade ago was the right move – and it’s almost universally regarded as a mistake today – the Middle East faces a present crisis in the form of ISIS and other terrorist activities.
One piece of good news from the ASDA’A survey is that, across the board, young Arabs have a negative view of ISIS. Half believe the group’s rise is the greatest obstacle the Middle East currently faces, beyond the looming issue of terrorism in general, which was cited as the second most pressing concern by 38% of respondents.
“Millions of Iraqi youth who have been forced from their homes because of ISIS are missing out on a proper education and on their childhoods in general. The government of Iraq and the entire international community need to work together to fix it and fix it now,” said Jany.
As Jany concluded, “Iraqi Security Forces and their allies are working to make Iraq safe, but we need to be thinking about what happens next. How do we rebuild and return to life after cities are cleared of ISIS? How do we involve Iraqi youth in the future of Iraq? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves.”