Foreign policy ‘experts’ who are actually idiots

Those who don’t get it — and there are many — should not style themselves “foreign policy experts”.

Ms. Power, meet Mr. Ahmadinejad…
By Barry Rubin

'Expert' Samantha Power

'Expert' Samantha Power (courtesy "Vogue")

A friend asked me about the meaning of the following quote from a now-former Obama advisor:

…Syria’s really tricky. I think if we could get our policy in Israel straight, then you get a sort of credibility to convene Arab governments that have a civil society with — hopefully, you still have a few allies in Europe and elsewhere — and actually start to have the difficult conversation about how one can liberalize. — Samantha Power

I understand what she means and it is very important. It is the most basic concept of many or most Middle East “experts,” politicians, and the media. It says: if we could move away from Israel and force it to surrender — oops, to make peace — working with all those smart European governments, then the United States could help lead the Arab world to be democracies. Israel’s policy is the cause of all the problems, even the lack of democracy in the Arabic-speaking world.

That is what it says very clearly. It is extremely stupid. But anyone who thinks of the Arab world in these terms is not only an idiot, but also a very good candidate to become a highly rewarded, well paid, frequently published, person who will get tenure/op-eds in leading newspapers, etc.

We are supposed to believe, in this conception, that these countries don’t really exist, they don’t have societies, their regimes don’t have interests, they don’t have issues, they don’t have histories or internal struggles or class systems or ethnic and religious tensions. No, everything in these lands are just reflections of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Of course if the “genius” in question knows nothing about those societies, regimes, ideologies, issues, interests, histories, and just plain human beings — this seems logical.

And this is why Western policy toward the Middle East is in such a serious mess and hasn’t worked. This will continue to be true unless they stop the Israel-centric explanation for everything in the region and take into account dictatorship, ideology, Islamism, Arab nationalism, traditional social structures, religious world views, imperialist ambitions and chauvinist attitudes, the treatment of women, economic systems. You know, all the stuff that counts everywhere else in the world.

But of course what this vision does is that it tells people that they should really hate Israel. After all, if Israel didn’t exist–or acted in a way so that it would not exist for much longer–we are to believe that the Middle East would be peaceful, democratic, moderate and pro-Western. If you believe this than you really do think that the world would be a better place without Israel. Ms. Power, meet Mr. Ahmadinejad.

. . .

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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