- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 10, 2001

Before September 11, when Afghanistan faced the specter of mass starvation, one country provided 80 percent of the support for the U.N. World Food Program's relief operations there. It was not an Arab country. It was not a Muslim country. It was not a Third World country. It was not a close neighbor.
No, it was the United States, which provided 7 times more money than the second-biggest donor. No other country on Earth, in fact, received more food aid from the U.S. in the past year than Afghanistan.
The war against the Taliban is only one part of a broad anti-terrorism campaign. Another part is the contest for public opinion around the world, which we are alleged to be losing. The Bush administration has now resolved to do more to rebut anti-American propaganda. It can begin by trying to cure the ignorance that underlies much of the hostility.
The hostility is less widespread than you might think from the news coverage, which makes us sound like a pariah. In fact, our European allies have been unusually steadfast. Germany and France have both offered to send troops, and former Soviet bloc nations such as Poland and Romania are firmly behind us. Russia, China and India, which encompass 40 percent of humanity, have taken our side.
Even the 22-nation Arab League voted to condemn Osama bin Laden, saying he does not speak for Arabs or Muslims. Recently, there have been mass anti-government demonstrations in Iran, with protesters chant-ing, "We love you, America." Iran.
Critics have ridiculed our recent aerial food drops as pitifully inadequate. They haven't noticed that Washington decided to continue providing support for broad U.N. relief efforts even after September 11 efforts aimed at feeding more than 5.5 million Afghans. You could say that was a cynical effort to defuse criticism of the air war, if we hadn't been doing it for years.
The use of B-52s against a primitive nation strikes some people as brutal. But the U.S. has conspicuously avoided the sort of terror bombing used by both sides in World War II. The point of the air campaign is to destroy military assets, not to kill civilians. Some civilians may be hit, but there is no way to wage modern war without such casualties. A full-scale ground invasion, far from being more humane to the Afghan people, would turn the entire country into a free-fire zone.
Anyone concerned about the plight of civilians there should be eager to see the Taliban destroyed. It was not the U.S. government that wrecked the country's economy, presided over a famine that left millions displaced long before this war began, imposed religious totalitarianism, and turned the women of Afghanistan into the most oppressed people on the planet.
The victims of Taliban rule are Muslims yet it is the U.S. that is accused of waging war against Islam. If Americans had a vendetta against the religion, why did we provide aid to the mujahideen who fought against Soviet invaders two decades ago? Why did we go to war in the last 10 years to save Muslims in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait?
Another charge is that Americans, being sheltered and accustomed to complete safety, have grossly overreacted to the sort of event that is commonplace elsewhere. "I guess they think they're the only country that gets bombed or where people die," one scornful South African Muslim told the New York Times.
But if anything, Washington showed excessive forbearance toward the threat posed by al Qaeda. Before September 11, bin Laden and his confederates had attacked American targets on five separate occasions including the first bombing of the World Trade Center, the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The war in Afghanistan is an exercise of a right that belongs to every nation: self-defense.
The U.S. does make its share of mistakes in foreign affairs and our size and military power magnify those errors. We're sometimes clumsy, occasionally arrogant, and often unaware of how our actions look to the rest of the world. Still, it would be hard to think of another country in history that has amassed so much power and used it in such benign ways.
In conducting the war on terrorism, Americans have a duty to show, as our Declaration of Independence put it, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." We should be open to changing our policies in response to justified criticism. But we need to keep something in mind: Sometimes our detractors abroad criticize us because we're wrong and sometimes they criticize us because they are.

Steve Chapman is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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