The United States and Middle East:

Why Do "They" Hate Us?

by Stephen R. Shalom, 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 Israel.

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 return.

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 work."4

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 Israeli repression.

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 matter.

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

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.

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