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The same old Middle East cliches at the CIA


It's certainly easy to bash the U.S. intelligence community. They've had their failures of late, and all too often, they deserve it. Yet it is with some trepidation that I pin the failings of the anonymous, CIA-employed author of Imperial Hubris on the CIA and the intelligence community as a whole. In no small part, he owns his own foolishness.

The newspapers say that Anonymous (named and profiled in this article) is in bad odor around the halls of the Directorate of Intelligence. It's certainly irregular for a CIA analyst to write a book for general publication that's said to endorse not merely the "clash of civilizations" paradigm, but what sounds almost like a call for an outright war of civilizations.

Still, this guy, this mutant offspring of Sam Huntington and Niall Ferguson, is allegedly a leading CIA analyst. (Well, maybe not for much longer.) And at least one of his clunkers is a commonplace, a cliche both in and out of the halls of the intelligence community. Earlier, I took National Intelligence Council chairman Robert L. Hutchings to task for saying pretty much the same thing.

Can't we do any better than this?

In a late June interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, the silhouetted civil servant gravely revealed the key to understanding Middle Eastern attitudes towards America: they love us, but hate our government's policies.

Mitchell: "You're saying that no amount of public diplomacy will reach the Muslim world and change their minds because they hate everything that we stand for."

Anonymous: "No, I don't think they hate everything that they -- that we stand for. In fact, the same polls that show the depths of their hatred of our policies show a very strong affection for the traditional American sense of fair play, the idea of rule by law, the ability of people to educate their children. I think the mistake is made on our part to assume that they hate all those things. What they hate is the policy and the repercussions of that policy, whether it's in Israel or on the Arabian Peninsula. It's not a hatred of us as a society, it's a hatred of our policies."

There it is, the same simpleminded non sequitur offered up again and again by professors and journalists and other people who should know better yet somehow don't.

Where does this idea come from? It's common currency in the cities and editorial pages of the Arab Middle East, just for starters. For the recent Fourth of July holiday, reporter Philip Kennicott was in Cairo, watching mobs mark the occasion of American independence by burning U.S. and Israeli flags. Afterwards, he wrote:

Anti-Americanism has a reflexive formula to it as well -- which is not to say it's irrational or unjustified from the local perspective. One of its most predictable patterns is a distinction between hating American policy (and the prosecutor of those policies, President Bush) and hating Americans. You hear this so often, you wonder if it's a cliche or truth. ...

The chanting takes up about three-quarters of the time. A bullhorn is passed around and the chants take on a rhythmic eight-count, with the last beat silent. Both men and women chant, sometimes facing toward the police and sometimes to a hand-painted banner hung on the syndicate building. The banner is mostly a list of moments in U.S. military history that have not earned us universal world admiration (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Korea, Somalia, Lebanon, Libya, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, among others) with the following kicker: "This is a witness of American Civilization."

Kennicott has just enough discernment to cast doubt on the party line. Someone who went several steps further was Barry Rubin, who did a little tally for an article two years ago in Foreign Policy and came to the conclusion that in recent decades, the U.S. has intervened in favor of Muslims against non-Muslims, Arabs against non-Arabs, and Islamists versus secularists in 11 out of 12 cases. One could quibble with Rubin's math, but the fundamental point is this: everyone is free to choose a lens through which to view the United States: bombing Hiroshima or rescuing Kosovo, conquering Iraq or helping to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan.

Indeed, the key figure in Rubin's article is not 11-out-of-12, it's just plain 12. America is always everywhere in the Middle East and indeed in the world, mainly if not exclusively for the good. So why is it so easy hate America? The same reason a teenager resents his parents. We all value self-determination and resent those we depend on. The rest is commentary -- go and learn.


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000277.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 07:56 AM CST [Link]


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Replies: 5 comments

How patronizing to view the Arab and/or Muslim worlds dislike for US policies as a child rebelling against a parent. How about the economic effects of privatizing water, arrogant behavior, such as pronouncing that the US will no longer abide by treaties it signed, war, exploitation, immigration policies, and other things.

Posted by Carol @ 07/08/2004 09:53 PM CST

Shame on me. The flag-burners of Cairo are completely mature human beings.

I'll take my tongue out of my cheek just long enough to point out that the relationship between a parent and a _young child_ is one of natural and long-lasting dependency, while the relationship between a parent and a _teenager_ is one of resentful and uneasy dependency that neither side enjoys and is not destined to last too long.

Call it what you like, that's the situation.

Posted by Analyst @ 07/08/2004 11:06 PM CST

Unfortunately the parallel between a teenager and parent does in large part describe the situation. America provides a largely safe and easily identifiable distant entity to be angry with. It is much better than being forced to look at ones self and wallowing in constant self-hatred. And like many a parent the USA is largely forgiving of the excessive rants of the "Muslim" street. Yes, the USA is patronising, simply because it percieves a community which appears incabale of developing into a coherent modern society. There is arrogance on the part of the US and in part this can be justified by the numbers of people lining up desperate to have a small part of the American Life. How many economic migrants or political refugees would chose the Muslim states as first choice?
The US is also a major convenience for the governments of the Middle East as they can divert attention away from their own shortcomings onto the US.
The US is also a daily reminder to much of the angry world just how inadequate they are as societies.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 07/08/2004 11:34 PM CST

Thats what we all used to think. But I was married to an iranian in the 80's. The feeling was asmerica was intervening somehow hence the puppet government or leader analogies.

Now thinking of iran irac, saudi arabia, isreal...the un, brittan, then us intervention...for a small piece of ground to be taken away from one and given to another. Why not in the middle of the place, a port...the way in or out to control supplies or travel, etc...

I don't know the term for it, help me here..but it's like brittan works africa, profits from it. Many places are controlled but the main power civilizations, for money and profit.

If you can't figure out whats going on the bottom line is the dollar sign. Follow the money. If you must get closer to the truth. Audit sections of our leaders.

Posted by veronica de arce @ 07/12/2004 03:34 PM CST

This line of thinking is cheap, pop psychology.

Here is some evidence in support of the idea that people distinguish between governments and their peoples, including the case of the US: during the ten years of American-led sanctions against Iraq, American visitors to Iraq universally described being welcomed and well-treated by common people. Including during the War.

It seems reasonable to me to believe that people who have been subject to tyrannies can distinguish between peoples and their governments. If Arabs & Muslims truly hated everything American - for example, the way Nazis hated Jews - they would not listen to our music, read our books, or visit the States. But they do.

Posted by Michael Connolly @ 07/19/2004 07:12 PM CST

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