Saturday, April 09, 2005

Politics Are Always Local

I was looking through the archives on the Foreign Affairs website and I found this short essay on the issue of Palestine as the "vulcrum of Middle East politics" written by Princeton Near East Studies professor (and Bernard Lewis protege) Michael Scott Doran. It's actually a follow-up to a piece he wrote in an earlier issue of Foreign Affairs examining this Palestine-centric thesis in much more depth:

"'Palestine, Iraq, and American Strategy' attacked the school of analysis that identifies the Palestine question as the fulcrum of Middle East politics. Washington's pro-Israel bias, this school argues, alienates Arabs and feeds support for radicals such as Osama bin Laden. The school's adherents were so myopically focused on Israel as the "root cause" of the region's problems, I claimed, that they failed to appreciate the diversity and significance of various inter-Arab conflicts. Events over the past two years have largely borne out my thesis.

Professor Doran continues:

"
Many commentators warned, for example, that there would be dire consequences if the Bush administration set out to topple Saddam Hussein without also pressuring the Israeli government to do more for the Palestinians. The administration chose to ignore this advice, and -- thanks partly to the passing of Yasir Arafat -- Israeli-Palestinian relations are now the warmest they have been in years.

"Similarly, many commentators warned that the invasion of Iraq would produce a powerful nationalist backlash in that country. They were taken by surprise, accordingly, when millions of Iraqis turned out to vote in the recent elections, putting the lie to the notion that the insurgency represents anything like the will of the people.

"And they have been shocked by the recent developments in Lebanon, because the spectacle of teeming Lebanese crowds protesting Syria's occupation -- rather than Israel's -- was beyond their imaginations.

"What all these 'surprises' have in common is that they can be traced to local issues. They came as a shock because they put paid to the concept at the heart of the 'root cause' school's thinking: a monolithic pan-Arab public opinion driven by an obsessive concern with the Palestinians and their supposed Israeli and American oppressors."

Doran then furthers his point with a really interesting discussion about the Shia in Saudi Arabia. Pretty enlightening stuff from a guy who was denied tenure at Princeton.

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