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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Foreign Policy and Political Speech

I'm fairly interested in the meaning and importance of political speech, so this academic analysis stood out when I read it, even though I was looking for something else altogether when I found it:
There is no denying that some American policies, such as our support for Israel and sanctions against Iraq, are unpopular. But it is important to analyze anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism in the Arab world as political speech. When leaders in our own country justify particular policies on the basis of their deep commitment to freedom and democracy, no serious political analyst would take these statements at face value. The statements would be interpreted against the backdrop of the domestic political debate, national interests, etc. But when Arab political actors invoke opposition to Israel and the United States, we tend to take what they say at face value.

In my view, much of the discussion in the Arab world about Palestine, Iraq and America's role in both is not only about those three issues. It is also about other things.
Let me explain why this is interesting on many levels.

First, it obviously speaks to important ongoing debates. Critics of the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terror, such as former "Anonymous" CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, say that al Qaeda attacks the US because of its policies effecting Muslims around the world -- especially "unqualified support for Israel" and "Probably the most damaging of all is our 30-year support for police states across the Islamic world." Scheuer puts great weight on bin Laden's words:
Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world.
However, the scholar quoted above doesn't agree with Scheuer's analysis:
An important example is the Palestine question, which has a strong symbolic role in Arab and Muslim political speech. Palestine as a symbol means, among other things, the disregard that the West has for Arab and Muslim suffering. Obviously, when a Palestinian talks about Palestine, he or she is talking about the situation at home. But when, for instance, Saudis, Egyptians or Iranians invoke Palestine, they are often discussing their own circumstances as well.

Rightly or wrongly, most Arabs perceive Washington as the guardian of the current Arab political and economic order, which, quite frankly, stinks. Consider, for instance, Saudi Arabia, whose problems are typical. Nearly 50 percent of the Saudis are under the age of 15. While the population has been increasing at more than 3 percent a year, the average real income in the kingdom has decreased precipitously -- perhaps by as much as 50 percent in the last decade. The monarchy, like most Arab governments, does not permit freedom of expression or of assembly. In my view, the extreme anger that many Saudis are expressing toward America has its roots in that dismal state of affairs rather than on this or that policy that Washington might be pursuing.
No, the scholar isn't Bernard Lewis, though that might have been a good guess. Indeed, the speaker is someone sometimes identified as a protégé of Lewis -- Michael Scott Doran.

Doran's identity is the second reason this is interesting. The Princeton Middle East studies junior professor is apparently favored by the Bush administration and was recently said to be in line for a job at the National Security Council. However, I haven't read anything about that -- and I searched the web widely, including the site. Anyone? I know Abu Aardvark has followed Doran's career a bit.

Third, the quote is interesting because of the sentence I have put in bold. Let's look at it alone:
When leaders in our own country justify particular policies on the basis of their deep commitment to freedom and democracy, no serious political analyst would take these statements at face value.
Maybe Doran hasn't been named to the NSC because someone in the Bush administration dug up this quote -- printed in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin, January 14, 2002?

After all, the President is committed to freedom and democracy.

Isn't he?

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