American foreign aid in Muslim countries: Upgrade or end?
Despite the billions of dollars that the United States has spent in aid to many Muslim countries, our image in many of these countries continues to be profoundly negative.
The "winning hearts and minds" strategy simply has not worked.
It is obvious that the aid has not been used effectively. Many leaders of Islamic countries care only about getting aid without reciprocating with good will. To the contrary, they continue to use or allow their schools to educate Muslim children to hate America and their press and Muslim pulpits to foment anger and violence against the United States.
The U.S. government must require that at least part of the future aid to these countries be conditional on or at least linked, in part, to the goal of the recipient countries building attitudes of friendship, not enmity, in their populations (i.e. improving the image of the US in such countries.
A second error in our foreign aid program has been that aid to countries such as Egypt built valuable infrastructure without creating links in the recipient populations' minds to the donor nation.
Japan and France create highly visible projects that significantly help improve their image. For example, when you visit Cairo, people on the street refer to "the French and the Japanese hospitals" yet you cannot find an equivalent prominent American hospital that people refer to. How can citizens in aid-receiving nations be appreciative when they are not even aware of their benefactor?
One beneficial outcome of upgrading our approach to giving aid would be to make Islamic countries weaken the ideology of radical Islam, as this idology is a major obstacle to improving America's image in many Islamic countries.
If the US aid to Egypt after signing the peace treaty with Israel in 1979 had been given under the condition that anti-Semitism in the country and its Siamese twin anti-Americanism must show decline on a yearly basis, the Middle East could have enjoyed true peace by now and America would have emerged from the Arab Spring with a democratic ally. Instead, Mubarak -despite receiving billions of dollars from the US in the form of aid-was allowed to nurture decades of virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.
Similarly, US aid to Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza has continued in spite of years of rabid anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism in the Palestinian media and schools.
In these times of tight money, if the US is to continue to give financial aid to the Muslim world, it must be given with a clear assessment of if and how the "marketing budget" of foreign aid succeeds in building good will. With appropriate little nudges, public opinion in these countries might just turn our way.Article by Tawfik Hamid (tawfikhamid.com)