'Against Us': 7 Years Later U.S. Image Still Toxic

In Iraq, it's the trauma surgeon at one of Baghdad's busiest hospitals. He welcomed the U.S. military with real hope. But after five years of piecing together the war's victims, he blames the United States for failing to deliver the democratic paradise it promised him. At times, he's even suspected that the United States planned the violence to justify a long-term military presence. The success of the surge has tempered those suspicions. But to him, the deaths of more than 150,000 Iraqis (as estimated by the World Health Organization through 2006) has been too high a price for his country to pay.

"All of us in Iraq have heard many promises, but none of them have been fulfilled. I think the Americans can win the war, but they don't want to win," he said. "They don't have the real intention to win the war."

In Iran, it's the pro-democracy student leader Babak Zamanian, who risks his life fighting for American-style freedom in Iran but wants no American help. In fact, he said the United States is hurting his cause by threatening war, which he believes strengthens Iran's hard-liners.

"It's just not clear what the U.S. is doing in the world, and that's a huge problem," he said. "Speaking about diplomacy one day and war the next makes the situation in Iran very critical."

In Afghanistan, it's a young girl named Homa who's just beginning college in Kabul. Afghanistan is unique in the Muslim world in that large majorities believe the United States is helping to change their lives for the better.

"When Taliban was in our country, we couldn't do anything," Homa told me when I first met her in 2006. "Now we can do whatever we want."

The trouble is, seven years after the invasion, the United States is failing to meet her expectations. She's able to go to school, unlike under the Taliban when girls were banned from classrooms. But years after the invasion, her school was still a collection of simple, canvas tents. She and her family are safe from beatings by the Taliban for violating Islamic law, but they face a growing threat of terrorist violence.

"The situation is too bad in Afghanistan now," she told me on a return visit last month. "There's more people killed."

The Hating America Movement

Perhaps most troubling is the growing belief around the region that the United States obstructs rather than promotes progress.

For Muslims, the gap between what we preach and what we do has always been wide, but today it is almost unbridgeable. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and our continuing relationships with Middle Eastern dictatorships all matter. Muslim friends laugh when we call Saudi Arabia and Egypt "moderate" regimes.

Many dissidents now see their cause as stronger without America than with it.

"Without you getting involved," an Egyptian pro-democracy blogger told me, "we'd be fighting just [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, not Mubarak and America."

This sense of being under assault has helped solidify a form of Middle Eastern nationalism that transcends borders, even religion.

I can easily find Christians in Lebanon who revere Hezbollah as devoutly as Shiite Muslims do; they see it as resistance against American imperialism. Hating America has become a modern-day youth movement. In this sense, al Qaeda may be losing the military campaign, but it has won a considerable ideological victory.

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