Like many western-educated Arabs, Mervat Hatem, 40, readily joins in the near-worldwide condemnation of the naked aggression of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. But she worries that cultural stereotyping and misreadings of the Arab world are producing strategies that just don't serve U.S. interests in the region.
The concerns of the Howard University Middle East specialist and political science professor are based on seven years of higher education in her native Egypt, including the American University in Cairo, and 15 years in the United States -- several of those years spent earning a doctorate at the University of Michigan.
She is critical of cutting off medical supplies and starving Iraqi citizens to punish Saddam. "It is not the Iraqi population that decided to invade Kuwait . . . . I would hope there was some other way to punish him without killing the Iraqi people."
During the last few weeks she has spent hours watching television, reading newspapers and discussing the crisis with Arab and non-Arab family and friends, and she finds herself especially critical of the apparent lack of American will to negotiate.
"For days Hussein has seemed to be trying to make overtures, through his foreign secretary and others, wishing to come to the table, but nobody is listening," she said.
Now, some U.S. sources increasingly express the view that Iraq's unconditional withdrawal can best be accomplished by negotiations led by a coalition of nations, not by military forces. That is a fragile thread, one not fully accepted by some U.S. officials who continue to say the demand for withdrawal is non-negotiable.
Moreover, it presumes no further escalation of the war.
But any moves toward a diplomatic solution please Hatem, who feels that withdrawal should be among the points of negotiation. "It is important to talk about the principles of withdrawal -- under which conditions it would be acceptable to the Americans, the Iraqis, the Saudis -- all parties involved in the confrontation. I didn't understand only the options of deadly military force or starvation."
Complicating strategic U.S. moves in the past and, probably, in the future, Hatem believes, are misperceptions of the region, its people and rulers.
While she reiterates that Hussein's regime is a deeply oppressive one, she thinks calling him "Hitler" is an inaccurate trigger word "because the Middle East is a very different part of the world and has totally different dynamics than what was going on in Europe in the 1930s and '40s."
Such comparisons, she feels, "reflect the prejudices that American policy makers have about the region and its rulers."
Most important, however, are the policy implications of such misperceptions. "The historical lesson is that you don't negotiate with people like Hitler. So an important opportunity is lost."
Moreover, Hatem thinks the western mind operates out of the misperception that Middle Easterners are less than human and have a value system that prefers war. "That is not the value system of all Middle Easterners, and Hussein is not the entire Middle East. I find that attitude very offensive."
The deaf ear the Bush administration has turned to Saddam Hussein will, she feels, increase the seriousness with which Jesse L. Jackson will be taken in Iraq.
Despite Jackson's caveats that he was going solely as a journalist, Hatem harbors the hope that somehow he could be a successful channel of communication between the U.S. administration and the Iraqi regime.
Mervat Hatem's decidedly minority point of view has in it the hope that this terrible crisis can be resolved without significant loss of life, whether it be Iraqi life through starvation or American lives through the bullet or bomb.
Perhaps, of all the recent events, none is more uncharted than the Persian Gulf crisis, to which the United States has deployed its greatest military buildup since the Vietnam War.
Rarely, since Vietnam, has Congress so acquiesced in a president's actions.
While Mervat Hatem's hope that somehow war can be avoided and the crisis can be resolved is fragile, it is important to cling to during this time of terrible, terrible uncertainty.