Angry Arab has a fascinating post on a letter written to the NYT by ass’t sec’y of state Jeffrey Feltman. Angry Arab– As’ad AbuKhalil– uses the letter as an opportunity to reflect on the elimination of Arabists from the State Department since the Clinton years.
A few quick points before the excerpt: there were Arabists all over the State Department in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s; and they generally lost.
They opposed the creation of Israel and warned that it could only be established and preserved by force (prophetic). They pushed for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, and lost (and the wound still festers). The Arabists were described as a romantic and anti-Semitic and fuddy-duddy elite in the Robert Kaplan book that Angry Arab mentions below, The Arabists– a book that treated Israel’s creation as a great liberal advance. Many of them came out of the old WASP establishment; and it is impossible to talk about the vanishing of the Arabists without speaking of the rise of Jews into the Establishment and the Jewish mistrust of that blueblood ancien regime. I was raised to dislike and fear Arabs; and my youthful prejudice is still widely shared in American Jewish life. Erica Jong wrote, Arabs and Other Animals, as the title of one of her chapters in her bestseller Fear of Flying– a no-cost prejudice, like the n-word back when Mark Twain was writing. Clinton’s was the most philosemitic presidency in history. He appointed two Jews to the Supreme Court, and his Middle East negotiating team was almost all Jewish. These sociocultural factors are of course significant in policymaking; and though I believe younger Jews are far more worldly than their parents’ generation, the change is taking place slowly. Brzezinski was railroaded after the Carter administration because he was seen as being too pro-Arab. He was said to be advising Obama; I don’t see hide nor hair of him. The great Rashid Khalidi (who as an Obama adviser actually might have saved the two-state-solution) was blackballed during the 2008 campaign. And remember the manner that the neoconservatives blackballed Chas Freeman as National Intelligence director in early 2009– an Arabic speaker, who liked Saudi Arabia, he was deemed an Arabist. Forget about it. That happened in the Obama administration, of course, and why? Well for the same reason that Feltman and Treasury’s Stuart Levey can endure from the disaster Bush administration into the Obama administration, because they are regarded as reliable by the Israel lobby, a force outside partisan politics. It’s all of a piece, the character of the new Establishment.
So Jeffrey Feltman wrote a letter to the New York Times today to express his disapproval of a Lebanese newspaper and its editorial line. When I read that last night, I could not help but think of the degradation of Middle East expertise in the US government. It is fair to say that ever since Bill Clinton came to power, the Arabists were completely eliminated from policy making positions at the White House and State Department (although some remain at other branches of the US government). Of course, the war on Arabists began in earlier years: Henry Kissinger tried to marginalize them in earlier years too. Their obituary was written in the book on their record by Robert Kaplan. In the late 1990s, I spoke about the Arabists and made the point I am making now at a conference at Georgetown University. After my talk, I was approached by Robert Pelletreau–he was the last Arabist to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs because the job went after him to ardent Zionists from outside the Foreign Service: people like Martin Indyk–and he pleaded with me to not use the word “Arabist” because it hurts the career and image of Middle East specialists at the US government. Feltman comes from the Foreign Service but does not dream of ever being considered an Arabist: not only because of his Likudnik politics but also because of his failure to achieve any of the knowledge or competence of Arabists in yester years….
This is not about politics: I am not endorsing the political views (always timid) of former Arabists: but I am at least pointing out the competence of Arabists in comparison to the Zionist crowd who now occupy positions of power relating to the Middle East in the US government.