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msnbc.com
updated 9/18/2006 12:37:50 PM ET 2006-09-18T16:37:50

Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans wanted one question answered above all others: Are we safer?

While stateside pundits debated the issue, Arab commentators addressed the same question from their own position halfway around the world.

The headline of an editorial in Egypt's Al Gomhuriya newspaper on Sept. 14 reflected the prevailing attitude, reading: "The World is Paying the Price for America's Security.

Expecting more
In the editorial, seemingly exasperated editor-in-chief Muhammad Abu Al-Hadid wondered how President Bush could have so badly miscalculated the human cost of the current Iraq war – eventually comparing his strategic error to that of Hezbollah's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in the latest Israel-Lebanon war.

Nasrallah recently declared that, had he been able to anticipate the scope of Israel's bombing of Lebanon, he would not have directed his fighters to mount their cross-border raid into Israel.

But Al-Hadid expected more from the leader of the free world, writing: "Hassan Nasrallah is not the head of a state, even one as small as Lebanon, and he is not known for being a world-[class] strategist.

"But what would we say about the head of the world's superpower when he says: 'I didn't know?!,' and only says this after occupying two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, and sacrificing 50,000 people from both countries, in addition to the victims in the ranks of the U.S. Army and its allies."

Retaliatory attacks
Meanwhile, a columnist for London's independent daily Al-Hayat singled out the Sept. 12 attack against the U.S. Embassy in Damascus as, "a new method in the commemoration of the September 11 attacks." Writing on Sept. 13, Daoud Shirian claimed the attack was, "a natural result of Washington's war on the so-called terrorism."

Shirian summed up by saying, "Not only does the incident that has occurred to the U.S. embassy in Damascus show the falsity of the slogan: 'The world has become a safer place,' but it also indicates that terrorism has recovered."

For its part, Syria's Tishreen newspaper took a swipe at what it characterized as the Bush administration's poor use of worldwide sympathy for America in the days and weeks after 9/11.

An editorial entitled, "The Rambo Complex," published in the state-run paper on Sept. 12 asked: "Did the American administration make good use of this international mobilization? Or did the exact opposite take place?!
"It is sorrowful and pitiful that the current American administration dealt with all that happened on the basis of the theory of the modern legendary hero: Rambo!! It is a superiority, power and bullying complex, and let us say it bluntly: through a fascist and racist vision that looks at the people from an angle of supremacy."

Saudis rebuke al-Qaida
But it wasn't only the usual suspects who were ready to criticize Washington for misplaying its diplomatic hand over the course of the last five years. In Saudi Arabia, where state-run papers are more reliably moderate, Al Watan was nevertheless unambiguous in its disappointment.

After alleging that the advice of Washington's regional friends has been roundly ignored, the paper's Sept. 11 editorial noted that: "The result was that a country like Iraq turned into a terrorism-generating pit and became an arena for the shedding of Iraqi and American blood alike."

Of course the Saudi daily couldn't let the day pass without a rebuke to al-Qaida, writing that, on the five year anniversary of 9/11, Osama bin Laden's group, "should have conducted an introspection, recognized the enormity of the crime they committed on that day, asked for God's forgiveness, and for that of the families of the victims, instead of insisting on walking down the same path which brought calamities upon their nation, especially in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan."

Seth Colter Walls was an editorial staff member of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper during 2004. Prior to joining MSNBC, he was editor of Mideastwire.com, a daily, web-based service that translates key Arabic- and Persian-language stories from the print, radio, and television media of the Middle East.

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