NEW YORK – From the folks who recently talked out using oil as a weapon to punish the U.S. for its support of Israel comes the flip-side of that thinking.
There is a grassroots movement in many parts of the Arab world to boycott all things American: from Frappiccinos to Happy Meals.
Millions of Arab consumers are now boycotting U.S. consumer products and are spreading the word in mosques, on the Internet, through billboards and cell phone messages.
But while they may be giving up their Marlboro's and their Pampers in the name of Islam, the boycott would have to spread far and wide before most American companies would even notice.
With 300 million consumers — most of them living in poverty — the Arab world accounts for just $20 billion, or 2.5 percent of U.S. exports. By contrast, tiny Israel with just 6 million people imports $7.5 billion worth of U.S. goods.
Still, the boycott of big American consumer names is somewhat of a PR headache for franchise companies such as McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks who depend on their worldwide appeal.
As one Arab boycotter put it, "we are deleting anything American."
Well, how about deleting this: billions of dollars in foreign aid that Uncle Sam spreads around the Arab world, starting with nearly $2 billion dollars ear-marked for Egypt and $228 million for Jordan alone.
The irony here is that when it comes to economic power, the U.S. consumer is the one who really holds all the cards. Oil, for example, accounts for 90 percent of all Saudi exports. Huge conservation by U.S. consumers is the real "oil as a weapon" play.
Unfortunately, U.S. consumers are as addicted to cheap oil and Arab consumers are to our cigarettes.