Thursday, May 13, 2004

More on the shifting sands of current foreign policy

This article profiles Rashid Khalidi, director of he Middle East Institute at Columbia.

Several notable things in this article -

First, almost a throwaway line not directly related to the article on the nature of Washington Journal callers looking for "a little anger endorsement:" "Tell me mine is the rage that matters most, so many callers seem to say."

Khalidi argues from a knowledge is power stance, rather than the power is power stance from which seems to flow so much of American policy these days. A critic dismissively says:

"What one finds, particularly in an election year, is that the world is filled with two kinds of people," says Pletka, who acknowledges Khalidi's credentials as a historian but not as a student of inside-the-Beltway policy making. "The kinds that make policy and the kinds who felt that if only the policy people had read their book, their memoir, their article, the policy would be different."

Khalidi's argument, however, rises a bit above calling the other guy a sore loser:

Khalidi's argument is that the world isn't divided into the lucky experts who get to make policy and resentful experts shut out of the conversation. Rather, it is divided between experts and ignorant political ideologues.

I would add "willfully" before "ignorant," but besides that, it's as adroit a description of our current lot as I've seen.

There's something here on the somewhat sinister shades of name-calling going on right now. It won't take too much searching my archives to see that I use the word "neocon" quite a bit. So, in advance, I'll go ahead and disagree with AEI's Ms. Pletka here:

"Neocon" and "neoconservative" are among Washington's most fraught rhetorical markers, used by some people in much the same way that "liberal" was once used to dismiss an entire category of supposedly failed thinking. Others, including the AEI's Pletka, see a more sinister resonance.

"I think the phrase 'neocon' is much more popular among people who think it shields their anti-Semitism," she says. "But it doesn't."

The most valuable word at any given time is the one which will silence your enemy. . . .

Which goes to the heart of one of the ideas in Khalidi's book: that the debate about Israel and Palestine, and proper U.S. policy in the region, has become so bitter that even experts dare not discuss it. In his book, he bemoans "the pervasive atmosphere of intimidation and fear that makes many experts on the region reluctant to express themselves frankly."

And another smart observation:

He has no patience for people who think "they hate us because we're us."

"They like us, they like our values," he says. "They hate our policies."

The good article ends on a disheartening note, however:

If one needs a clue to the book's fate, look to his C-SPAN appearance. On the screen, as he speaks, are three phone numbers: One for supporters of President Bush, another for Democrats, and a third for unidentified. He's trying to speak to America, but America is coming back at him, neatly channeled, into partisan categories. And America sounds too angry, this morning, to read a book.

This is sadly accurate, isn't it? There's just no discourse. Not on the Middle East, not in America today. Question blind, or even just regular, siding with Israel? You're an anti-Semite. Question the administration's policies? You're unpatriotic, you've just killed soldiers. There's an incredible unwillingness to talk anymore. So much falls in the third-rail category . . . we may as well just fess up to being a monorail people.

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