The United States and Middle East:
Why Do "They" Hate Us?
by Stephen R. Shalom
www.zmag.org/, December 12, 2001
The list below presents some specific incidents of U.S. policy
in the Middle East. The list minimizes the grievances against
the United States in the region because it excludes more generalized
long_standing policies, such as U.S. backing for authoritarian
regimes (arming Saudi Arabia, training the secret police in Iran
under the Shah, providing arms and aid to Turkey as it ruthlessly
attacked Kurdish villages, etc.). The list also excludes many
actions of Israel in which the United States is indirectly implicated
because of its military, diplomatic, and economic backing for
Whether any of these grievances actually
motivated those who organized the horrific and utterly unjustified
attacks of September 11 is unknown. But the grievances surely
helped to create the environment which breeds anti-American terrorism.
1947-48: U.S. backs Palestine partition plan. Israel established.
U.S. declines to press Israel to allow expelled Palestinians to
1949: CIA backs military coup deposing elected government of Syria.1
1953: CIA helps overthrow the democratically_elected Mossadeq
government in Iran (which had nationalized the British oil company)
leading to a quarter_century of repressive and dictatorial rule
by the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.
1956: U.S. cuts off promised funding for Aswan Dam in Egypt after
Egypt receives Eastern bloc arms.
1956: Israel, Britain, and France invade Egypt. U.S. does not
support invasion, but the involvement of its NATO allies severely
diminishes Washington's reputation in the region.
1958: U.S. troops land in Lebanon to preserve "stability".
early 1960s: U.S. unsuccessfully attempts assassination of Iraqi
leader, Abdul Karim Qassim.2
1963: U.S. supports coup by Iraqi Ba'ath party (soon to be headed
by Saddam Hussein) and reportedly gives them names of communists
to murder, which they do with vigor.3
1967_: U.S. blocks any effort in the Security Council to enforce
SC Resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from territories
occupied in the 1967 war.
1970: Civil war between Jordan and PLO. Israel and U.S. discuss
intervening on side of Jordan if Syria backs PLO.
1972: U.S. blocks Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat's efforts to reach
a peace agreement with Israel.
1973: Airlifted U.S. military aid enables Israel to turn the tide
in war with Syria and Egypt.
1973_75: U.S. supports Kurdish rebels in Iraq. When Iran reaches
an agreement with Iraq in 1975 and seals the border, Iraq slaughters
Kurds and U.S. denies them refuge. Kissinger secretly explains
that "covert action should not be confused with missionary
1975: U.S. vetoes Security Council resolution condemning Israeli
attacks on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.5
1978_79: Iranians begin demonstrations against the Shah. U.S.
tells Shah it supports him "without reservation" and
urges him to act forcefully. Until the last minute, U.S. tries
to organize military coup to save the Shah, but to no avail.6
1979_88: U.S. begins covert aid to Mujahideen in Afghanistan six
months before Soviet invasion in Dec. 1979.7 Over the next decade
U.S. provides training and more than $3 billion in arms and aid.
1980_88: Iran_Iraq war. When Iraq invades Iran, the U.S. opposes
any Security Council action to condemn the invasion. U.S. soon
removes Iraq from its list of nations supporting terrorism and
allows U.S. arms to be transferred to Iraq. At the same time,
U.S. lets Israel provide arms to Iran and in 1985 U.S. provides
arms directly (though secretly) to Iran. U.S. provides intelligence
information to Iraq. Iraq uses chemical weapons in 1984; U.S.
restores diplomatic relations with Iraq. 1987 U.S. sends its navy
into the Persian Gulf, taking Iraq's side; an overly_aggressive
U.S. ship shoots down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing 290.
1981, 1986: U.S. holds military maneuvers off the coast of Libya
in waters claimed by Libya with the clear purpose of provoking
Qaddafi. In 1981, a Libyan plane fires a missile and U.S. shoots
down two Libyan planes. In 1986, Libya fires missiles that land
far from any target and U.S. attacks Libyan patrol boats, killing
72, and shore installations. When a bomb goes off in a Berlin
nightclub, killing three, the U.S. charges that Qaddafi was behind
it (possibly true) and conducts major bombing raids in Libya,
killing dozens of civilians, including Qaddafi's adopted daughter.8
1982: U.S. gives "green light" to Israeli invasion of
Lebanon,9 killing some 17 thousand civilians.10 U.S. chooses not
to invoke its laws prohibiting Israeli use of U.S. weapons except
in self_defense. U.S. vetoes several Security Council resolutions
condemning the invasion.
1983: U.S. troops sent to Lebanon as part of a multinational peacekeeping
force; intervene on one side of a civil war, including bombardment
by USS New Jersey. Withdraw after suicide bombing of marine barracks.
1984: U.S._backed rebels in Afghanistan fire on civilian airliner.11
1987-92: U.S. arms used by Israel to repress first Palestinian
Intifada. U.S. vetoes five Security Council resolution condemning
1988: Saddam Hussein kills many thousands of his own Kurdish population
and uses chemical weapons against them. The U.S. increases its
economic ties to Iraq.
1988: U.S. vetoes 3 Security Council resolutions condemning continuing
Israeli occupation of and repression in Lebanon.
1990_91: U.S. rejects any diplomatic settlement of the Iraqi invasion
of Kuwait (for example, rebuffing any attempt to link the two
regional occupations, of Kuwait and of Palestine). U.S. leads
international coalition in war against Iraq. Civilian infrastructure
targeted.12 To promote "stability" U.S. refuses to aid
post_war uprisings by Shi'ites in the south and Kurds in the north,
denying the rebels access to captured Iraqi weapons and refusing
to prohibit Iraqi helicopter flights.13
1991_: Devastating economic sanctions are imposed on Iraq. U.S.
and Britain block all attempts to lift them. Hundreds of thousands
die. Though Security Council had stated that sanctions were to
be lifted once Saddam Hussein's programs to develop weapons of
mass destruction were ended, Washington makes it known that the
sanctions would remain as long as Saddam remains in power. Sanctions
in fact strengthen Saddam's position. Asked about the horrendous
human consequences of the sanctions, Madeleine Albright (U.S.
ambassador to the UN and later Secretary of State) declares that
"the price is worth it."14
1991-: U.S. forces permanently based in Saudi Arabia.
1993_: U.S. launches missile attack on Iraq, claiming self_defense
against an alleged assassination attempt on former president Bush
two months earlier.15
1998: U.S. and U.K. bomb Iraq over the issue of weapons inspections,
even though Security Council is just then meeting to discuss the
1998: U.S. destroys factory producing half of Sudan's pharmaceutical
supply, claiming retaliation for attacks on U.S. embassies in
Tanzania and Kenya and that factory was involved in chemical warfare.
Evidence for the chemical warfare charge widely disputed.16
2000-: Israel uses U.S. arms in attempt to crush Palestinian uprising,
killing hundreds of civilians.
1. Douglas Little, "Cold War and Covert Action: The
United States and Syria, 1945_1958," Middle East Journal,
vol. 44, no. 1, Winter 1990, pp. 55_57.
2. Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard
Helms and the CIA, New York: Knopf, 1979, p. 130.
3. Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn, Out of the
Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, New York: Harperperennial.
1999, p. 74; Edith and E. F. Penrose, Iraq: International Relations
and National Development, Boulder: Westview, 1978, p. 288;
Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary
Movements of Iraq, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978, pp. 985_86.
4. U.S. House of Representatives, Select Committee on Intelligence,
19 Jan. 1976 (Pike Report) in Village Voice, 16 Feb. 1976.
The Pike Report attributes the quote only to a "senior official";
William Safire (Safire's Washington, New York: Times Books,
1980, p. 333) identifies the official as Kissinger.
5. UN Doc. # S/11898, session # 1862. For a full list of
U.S. vetoes in the Security Council on Middle East issues, along
with full text of the draft resolutions, see the compilation by
David Paul at http://www.salam.org/policy/veto.html.
6. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs
of the National Security Adviser, 1977-1981 (New York: Farrar
Straus Giroux, 1983), pp. 364-64, 375, 378-79; Gary Sick, All
Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter with Iran (New York:
Penguin, 1986), pp. 147-48, 167, 179.
7. Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Le Nouvel Observateur
(France), Jan 15-21, 1998, p. 76.
8. See the sources in Stephen R. Shalom, Imperial Alibis
(Boston: South End Press, 1993, chapter 7.
9. Ze'ev Schiff, "Green Light, Lebanon," Foreign
Policy, Spring 1983.
10. Robert Fisk, "The Awesome Cruelty of a Doomed Poeple,"
Independent, 12 Sept. 2001, p. 6. Fisk is one of the most
knowledgeable Westerners reporting on Lebanon.
11. UPI, "Afghan Airliner Lands After Rebel Fire Hits
It," NYT, 26 Sept. 1984, p. A9.
12. See, for example, Barton Gellman, "Allied Air War
Struck Broadly in Iraq; Officials Acknowledge Strategy Went Beyond
Purely Military Targets," Washington Post, 23 June
1991, p. A1. See also Thomas J. Nagy, "The Secret Behind
the Sanctions," Progressive, Sept. 2001.
13. Cockburn and Cockburn, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection
of Saddam Hussein, chap. 1.
14. Cockburn and Cockburn, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection
of Saddam Hussein, chap. 5. Albright quote is from CBS News,
60 Minutes, 12 May 1996.
15. On the dubious nature of the evidence, see Seymour Hersh,
New Yorker, Nov. 1, 1993.
16. See Seymour Hersh, New Yorker, Oct. 12, 1998.
Do They Hate Us ?"