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August 19, 2007

Middle East Experts
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Just to lead off Ilan’s post, a couple things:

1. The Middle East experts that Ilan mentioned are all great, but very few of them (Brian Katulis being the obvious exception) are explicitly Democrat or are part of the “progressive movement” in any significant way. Not only do we need more Middle East experts, we need more “in-house” talent. When Democrats talk about their political appointments come 2008, very few of the major names are experts/policymakers who have a background in the Middle East. This is a problem.

2. Ilan is right: all other things being equal, those experts who speak Arabic or who have lived in the Middle East for a significant period of time, were more likely to be against the war. The reason for this is obvious. Any student of the Middle East is more keenly aware of the unfortunate fact that Western countries have a horrendous record of military (and non-military) intervention in the Middle East, with few exceptions. There’s a history here: and American experts and policymakers seem to have a hard time understanding – or, for that matter, acknowledging – longstanding Arab grievances, among them the fact that we’ve consistently supported Middle Eastern dictatorships with financial, political, and moral resources for upwards of 5 decades.

Insanity is when you keep on making the same mistakes, expecting different results. Most recently, the Bush administration announced a new $20 billion arms deal to what may very well be the most undemocratic country in the world (if you’re living under a rock, that country is Saudi Arabia). Yes, some prominent Democrats opposed the deal, but not necessarily for the right reasons. They focused on the natonal security component of it. But very few raised what seems to me the most obvious point of contention – that we shouldn’t be arming to the teeth countries that are brutal dictatorships.


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Didn't the Saudi arms deal happen because the Saudis were pissed that we were arming Israel to the teeth with an even bigger military aid package?

And if that's true, isn't the simplest way to stop arming the Saudis to simply stop arming Israel as well?


Just about all the folks I mentioned are progressive leaning or at the very least completely opposed to what the President is doing. All you have to do is read some of their stuff to realize that many would likely be part of a Democratic administration.

I have no doubt that the people you listed would vote democrat. The point I was trying to make, though, was that they aren't partisan people and they generally haven't been involved in democratic politics in any explicit way (say, for example, by doing foreign policy advising for the democratic candidates). these aren't people who are involved in progressive natl security politics, i.e. through organizations like the Truman Project or the National Security Network. These aren't the Sandy Bergers, the Derek Chollets, the Susan Rices, or the Anne-Marie Slaughters. Rather, these are people who would probably feel comfortable also being in a moderate Republican administration, not just a Democratic one. Moreover, when you read their work, they aren't trying to tie their research to a progressive value structure, or to a progressive agenda. And there's no reason to think that they should; because that's not what they're trying to do.

we shouldn’t be arming to the teeth countries that are brutal dictatorships.

Come on, Shadi, siding with brutal dictatorships is the American way.

After WWII the US used Japanese troops in China and Vietnam against Mao tse-Tung and Ho Chi Minh, in Italy funded the Christian Democrats against the Socialists, in the Greek civil war sided with the neo-fascists (ex-Nazi partisans) resulting in a harsh fifteen-year rule, in the Philippines fought against the Huks and enthroned the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, overthrew Mossadegh in Iran for the brutal rule of the Shah, overthrew Arbenz in Guatemala for a brutal forty-year rule, supported Duvalier in Haiti, installed the Baath party in Iraq (later to be overthrown), took Ngo Dinh Diem from a New jersey monastery and made him president of our creation South Viet Nam and fought against Ho Chi Minh, ousted Sukarno in Indonesia for General Suharto's military rule . . . you get the idea. The beat goes on.

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I would like to say the key to being an "expert" is that you agree with what all the other "experts" say and you are able to articulate these opinions in an intelligent sounding way which would appear as if you're adding something new to the discussion, rather than just regurgitating what you learned from the others. But if the establishment doesn't want to hear what you've got to say, then you just won't be heard. Few "experts" fall into this category.

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