When Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman pulled up to Savannah, Ga., after his legendary March to the Sea in December 1864, he was savagely slandered in the Southern press as a renegade leader of a "vandal horde."
But at that same time, leading Confederate officers privately appealed to him, hoping he would guarantee the safety of the relatives they had left behind in Savannah. Why, Sherman wondered, would his sworn enemies trust that such an enemy might be kind to their loved ones — unless they knew that their own slurs about him were mere rhetoric?
That same sort of pretense is evident in the Middle East, where the leaders of countries and organizations hostile to or critical of the United States often trust us far more than they let on.
Nabih Berri, the Lebanese Amal militia chief who is now allied with both the anti-American Hezbollah and Syria, has much of his family residing in Dearborn, Mich.
Amr Salem, until recently a cabinet minister in Bashar Assad's anti-American government in Syria, was a senior program manager at Microsoft. His family still lives in the U.S.
Bilal Musharraf, son of Pakistan strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has been a Boston-based consultant and a Stanford business and education student. Meanwhile, his father's government is either unwilling or unable to arrest on his soil the remnants of al-Qaida, among them, most likely, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi ambassador to the United States and high cabinet official in a monarchy that funds much of the world's radical Islamist madrassas, is selling his 56,000-square-foot mansion in tony Aspen. The asking price is $135 million — the most expensive home ever put up for sale in the United States.
What are we to make of these incongruities and others like them?
First is the obvious hypocrisy. Allying with radical Shiites in Lebanon, anti-American Syrians or Islamists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia does not seem to disqualify Middle Eastern politicos from appreciating the freedom, security and opportunity of the United States.
For all the talk of America's faults, no Middle Easterner worries about vengeful Americans kidnapping or car-bombing his relatives. And few seem to consider that if the worldview of a present-day Lebanese militia or Saudi Arabia ever sweeps the globe, there would be no Dearborn or Aspen for their kin to find sanctuary.
Second, the wide gap between what many in the Middle East say and do should be a reminder that much anti-Americanism is poorly thought out or mostly for show. Many who decry America to the press and cameras privately prefer to send their loved ones here to take advantage of our success brought about by secular education, gender equality, meritocratic democracy and the primacy of law.
Third, the families of leaders of autocratic nations often hostile to the United States are kept safe and sound in this country precisely because of our openness and respect for guests and foreigners. Unlike most of the Middle East, where it is nearly impossible for Christians, single women or homosexuals to live openly and freely, Americans are a tolerant people who are not captive to tribal, religious or sectarian vengeance.
Americans may also think that these personal ties of Middle East authoritarians to the United States will lead to either liberalization back home or at least more favorable impressions of us there. Sadly, that hasn't happened. In the case of Syria's Amr Salem, his tenure at Bill Gates' Microsoft seems to have made him only a more perfect minister of computer surveillance.
Indeed, sometimes exposure to American culture creates feelings of ambiguity — a sense of guilt among conservative arrivals at their newfound liberal appetites. In other cases, the perception arises that someone or something must have prevented the Middle East from enjoying what Americans take for granted.
The United States probably will not — and probably should not — deny entry to the families of Lebanese militia leaders, Pakistani dictators, Saudi sheiks or Syrian high officials. But we should at least point out to them, as Gen. Sherman once did to his grandstanding detractors, that there is certainly a reason why Bandar, Berri, Musharraf and Salem want their children over here — and apparently as far away as possible from the countries where they themselves are in charge. .