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In the Mideast, America Casts an Imperial Shadow

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Today, al-Qaeda in Iraq threatens the security of entire districts of the country; policymakers hint at a "South Korean" model of an indefinite U.S. military presence in Iraq; the Pentagon is weighing long-term plans for U.S. bases all over the region; and Washington seems to assume that U.S. national interests require our troops to fight their way across West Asia and North Africa to stop "the terrorists," failing which we will find them crawling up the beaches of Miami and Long Island.

This is madness. People in the Middle East are angry at the United States not because of our values, many of which they share: democracy, free enterprise, even many of our cultural values such as love of family and respect for religion. They are angry at us, essentially, because our forces are doing things in their back yard that we would never tolerate from foreign troops in our own region.

We are the greatest power in world history. But that will make not a whit of difference to the outcome in Iraq. We will not -- we cannot -- force the Iraqis to do what we want, any more than the British could toward the end of their own attempt to rule Iraq, although they managed to hold on for much longer than our doomed occupation will.

Our political leaders must recognize that force does not solve the problem of terrorism. The real terrorists -- those blowing up civilians in marketplaces and office towers, as opposed to Iraqis resisting U.S. occupation -- can be dealt with only by means far more subtle than military might. Dealing effectively with this elusive enemy requires patience and a far more precise, carefully targeted and politically sophisticated toolkit than the mighty bludgeon of the U.S. armed forces.

No true U.S. interest has been served by the invasion, destruction and occupation of Iraq. We have done incalculable harm to that tragic country and to our position in the world. Perhaps we can limit the damage if we substitute a little humility for the blind hubris that led us into this disaster -- an understanding of the limitations of armed force and "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," especially those whose hearts we hope to win.

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said professor

of Arab studies at Columbia University. His latest book is "The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood."


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