Across the Bay

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Diplomacy as Missionary Work

Here's my NOW Lebanon piece from Tuesday on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing with the nominee for US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. While Ford did note that sanctions will remain in place so long as Syria supports Hezbollah, the overall approach was one of pretending that we know Syria's interests better than its regime does and that the task of diplomacy is to remedy the regime's false consciousness. In other words, it's diplomacy as missionary work.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Who's Leading on Syria Policy?

I'm very late posting this, but here's my piece from last Tuesday in NOW Lebanon about the John Kerry factor in the recent incoherent development in the US policy toward Syria.

My assessment of the Syrians' conception and cultivation of Kerry's role was further corroborated in a recent report in the pro-Syrian As-Safir, which contained the following quote by Imad Mustapha's lap poodle. This is essentially straight from Mustapha's desk:

Landis told As-Safir that Kerry's role is essential in Syrian-American relations because he carried messages from the US administration during his visits to Damascus and he is playing a role in reassuring the Syrians and in confirming that Syrian-American relations remain on the White House's agenda. [Landis] considers that Kerry is also trying to distance Obama from "the traditional policy at the State Department which is not eager to engage with Syria."

Similarly, another regime mouthpiece put this out in al-Hayat:

It was confirmed that Sen. John Kerry played a role in pushing up the date of the [Senate Committee on Foreign Relations] hearing in order to "confirm the continuation of the dialogue due to Syria's axiomatic role," after eight Republican congressmen asked Secretary of State Clinton to postpone the discussion of appointing an ambassador, noting the need "to not engage for the sake of engaging."

I had warned about this back in March of last year:

Syria will attempt to diversify its channels with as many American interlocutors as possible to play them off against each other. The Obama administration would do well to restrict the number of cooks in the Syria kitchen.

In the end Kerry can only carry the Syrians so far. More to come.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Juan Cole's Social Protest

So who's more prone to terrorism and violence, people who are well off or poor people? Well if you're Juan Cole everything is flexible.

Cole is at his absolute funniest when he tries to project academic seriousness. And, once again, he does not fail to deliver. This time, it's a hysterical rant against Martin Kramer over a talk that Kramer recently gave.

After arguing that Kramer was a Nazi, a scientific racist and an advocate of genocide, Cole puts on his academic robe and belittles Kramer for his lack of depth in the "social sciences," (when in fact, Kramer relies on mainstream "social scientists" and ideas; maybe Cole thinks Alan Richards [pdf] also lacks that "depth") submitting the following dictum:

"Studies of groups that deploy violence against civilians for political purposes show that they are characterized by higher than average education and income, which correlate with smaller family size."

Needless to say, as with the rest of the post, this has nothing to do with what Kramer was actually talking about. However, I found that quote rather curious in that it struck me as undermining everything Cole and his ilk have been saying for years. For instance, wasn't Shiite "radicalization" supposedly a product of socio-economic deprivation?

To answer that question I went straight to the source. In 1986, Cole edited a book with Nikki Keddie entitled Shi'ism and Social Protest. In the introduction of the book, Cole and Keddie wrote:

The differential impact of capitalism, or of modernization, on various groups and classes, usually involving growing gaps in income distribution and life-styles, often brings forth protest, especially in a context of rapid social change. ... Similarly, economic development in Iraq and Lebanon did not proportionately benefit Shi'is, who remained predominantly proletarians and subproletarians or peasants. (Pp. 12-13.)

Then, the following corresponding remark was made about this "impact of modernization":

Fundamentalism and Khomeinism seem stronger in places that have undergone disruptive modernization. (P. 22)

So the "impact of modernization" led to "growing gaps in income distribution." etc., that "did not benefit Shi'is," which brought forth "social protest," and it was in this "social context" that "fundamentalism and Khomeinism" seemed "stronger."

I don't know about you, but it doesn't quite add up with Cole ca. February 2010: "Studies of groups that deploy violence against civilians for political purposes show that they are characterized by higher than average education and income, which correlate with smaller family size."

It does, however, enhance the overall comedic value of the post and of Juan Cole in general. But it creates a dilemma: which is more hilarious? Juan Cole blogger extraordinaire and El Presidente of the "global Americana institute," or Juan Cole the academic (whose bitterness that Kramer is somehow affiliated with Harvard while he was denied a position at Yale is quite palpable in the post)? It's a tough call. Either way, both characters offer the consistent delirious derangement that makes Cole such an endless source of entertainment if one actually had time to kill.