Ditto On James Zogby’s Middle East Report


Arab American Institute President James Zogby just included me tonight on the distribution of his 14 April 2008 Washington Watch report titled “The Disconnect: How Arabs and Americans See 2008“.
I had to post this report tonight because he is just returning from Egypt and Kuwait to Washington — and has encountered the same intense interest and anxiety in our American election process there that I have found densely to be the case in Saudi Arabia — in both Riyadh and Jeddah.
Zogby’s comments about the substantial dismay that this part of the world has about America’s abilities to achieve its objectives is also exactly what I have found.

I’m going to post a large clip of Zogby’s commentary:

Elite opinion in the Arab world is closely following the U.S. elections – at least as closely and, in many instances, with more attention than many Americans are here at home. I received questions and comments, not only about the Middle East positions of each of the three remaining candidates, but also about the role of superdelegates, whether delegations from Michigan and Florida would be seated at the Democratic Convention, and whether or not Americans were really ready to elect an African American with a Muslim parent.
Now, I grant you, that these were conversations with elites (Arab journalists, professors and business men and women), but the frequency and the intensity of the questioning struck me as important. These are opinion shapers: they write, they speak, and they lead public opinion. There is another reason as well. Despite growing tensions in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon; with Kuwait in the midst of a hotly contested Parliamentary election; and with Egypt facing municipal elections and a labor standoff that had grown riotous – the fact that the U.S. elections were being followed in such close detail is worthy of note.
To a worrisome extent, it became clear to me how divergent our election discourse is from concerns in the Middle East. For a time, the only Middle East issue being discussed in our campaign was that of Iraq, other crises roiling the region having been given short-shrift. But now, with Iraq having been displaced by the economy as American’s number one preoccupation, the electorate and candidates are focused largely on domestic issues. This is perfectly understandable, though still of concern.
At least among the elite audiences I addressed, despite the domestic challenges they were facing, they saw the American election as critical to their futures. In many ways they viewed this election as their own.
Make no mistake about it, real damage has been done by this administration’s foreign policy, and two immediate impacts are clear. First is the profound recognition that the last eight years have taken a toll across the Middle East. Many Arabs are gripped by a sense that they have lost control of their futures. They were forced to watch the unraveling of Iraq, the destructive neglect of Palestine and Lebanon, and the emboldening of extremists and Iran. This Administration’s adventurous and ill-conceived policies have unleashed dynamics that threaten to spill over into new conflicts.
Even more dangerous is the second effect, and that is the loss of hope that change is possible. Many of those with whom I spoke, especially those who know us, and even many of those who loathe our policies, want to believe we are not the country they see acting out across the region. They want to believe in America, and hope, as one put it, that “American will come back.” But, after policies pursued during the last several years, there is cynicism and, in some instances, a fear of actually hoping that America can play the role the region has long sought for it to play. One colleague said to me, “I studied in the U.S. I loved and learned from your country. But you’ve given peace a bad name, democracy a bad name – what else will you destroy?”
What emerges so clearly is how out of touch our political discourse has become from the real challenges with which the next president must be ready to deal “on day one.” First and foremost will be this loss of hope. And then there’s the fact that Palestine will still be suffering economic and physical strangulation, and Israel will still be facing the reality of violence. Lebanon will still be divided, and on the brink of conflict; and the people of Iraq will still be divided among themselves, lacking security and services, with one-fifth of their population displaced. The question that people across the Middle East are asking, and the question we as Americans should be asking of the candidates, is: “How, specifically, will you address these profound challenges facing our country’s security, and the security of a region we have so impacted?”
Listening to the candidates, however, we learn very little. Even when there are hints that one of the candidates may be more thoughtful or balanced in their approach, their campaign immediately rushes forward to douse that hope.

I also couldn’t agree more with the last zinger above.
More later — desperately need to sleep.
— Steve Clemons


25 comments on “Ditto On James Zogby’s Middle East Report

  1. David says:

    I can see the point that Israel is de jure a secular state, and I think probably more so in the minds of Israeli Jews, since they live by those laws, than for American Jews. I do appreciate your pointing that out, a fact that could provide an opening for a peaceful State of Israel comprising Jews, Muslims, and Christians, along with any and every other religious affiliation, including under a one state solution, although that possibility does seem remote.
    But Jewish culture and Jewish religion seem to me to overlap quite extensively, and I think that has pointed Israel in the direction of a de facto sectarian state, especially in the context of the ongoing conflict between the Jewish settlers and the displaced Muslims, dating from the inception of the modern state of Israel.
    I would be curious to know if there is a significant difference between secular and sectarian Jews in Israel as regards their attitude toward Palestinians, Palestinian statehood, and the rightness or wrongness of the Jewish settlements in Palestine.
    I certainly agree that Israel is not sectarian in the sense that Iran currently is, especially as compared to the Iran of Mossadegh’s day. But it is referred to as a Jewish state, and while being Jewish does not proscribe even being an atheist, I cannot help but think back to my college days and that signature line from the theme from Exodus, “This land is ours, God gave this land to us.” That is not even remotely secular, and is part of what for me is a complex tragedy of human making, rather like the tragedy that unfolded for Native Americans as Christian Europeans established their new world in America, complete with their variation on that notion, namely manifest destiny, with its inescapable religious overtones.


  2. Tintin says:

    ” Israel as it exists is officially a sectarian state, of course, which
    for me is a tragic mistake.”
    I was going to mention after your first post…
    I am intrigued by the arguments for a one-state solution, but
    Israel is officially a Jewish state, not a secular state, so that isn’t
    really a possibility…”
    A couple of points…
    • Israel is a secular state. There is no requirement that you be
    Jewish or religious to be a citizen. It isn’t run by the rabbis in
    the way that Iran is run by religious leaders. It hasn’t banished
    people of other faiths the way, say, Saudi Arabia has.
    • At the same time, Israel was founded as a refuge for
    persecuted Jews and as a base for a renewal of Jewish culture.
    • Jews are a people, an ethnic group, if you will. Not all Jews are
    religious, though many of them identify strongly as Jews.
    In this sense, The Jewish people cross some of the categories
    that Western culture has come to adopt post Enlightenment.


  3. David says:

    I did not intend to promote that stereotype. My point was that I’m not sure at this point that Palestinians would support a secular state, but I would be quite gratified to know that I was wrong. Israel as it exists is officially a sectarian state, of course, which for me is a tragic mistake. I am unaware of church and state in league ever having been a particularly good idea. The larger point I was aiming at was that sectarianism is being pushed, promoted, engendered, what have you at an accelerating pace. And the United States has been a major contributor to this problem, starting with Reagan and running amok under W.
    I apologize for the carelessness of my statement, and it was careless since it created that impression.


  4. Alohabunny says:

    The Zio-Cons over at the American Enterprise Institute control the government in the USA, the AEI is the “shadow government” and has been for 30 years………


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “If we free the people of Iraq, we will be respected in the Arab world.”
    William Kristol, 2003.


  6. JohnH says:

    Thanks for the link POA. It reinforces my point that the inner circles of the despotic regimes the US props up have good reason to worry. They are all sitting on a powder keg.
    “What emerges from all these illustrations is a pattern of governments of most Muslim countries subtly but officially siding with the US “war on terror”, while their citizens have taken on vehemently anti-American positions. To an extent, this government-citizen divide is not unique to the Muslim world.
    Even Britain under prime minister Tony Blair pledged complete loyalty to the US in Afghanistan and Iraq in spite of rising anti-war public opinion at home. However, the difference between Europe and the Muslim world is that the former has democratic procedures for popular will to throw out governments that are erring on foreign policy.”
    The leaders of Quisling Arab states have good reason to worry. If the US pulls back, they will be hung out to dry.


  7. Mr.Murder says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Steve.


  8. Tony Foresta says:

    No problem can ever be remedied unless and until, there is recognition and acceptance that there is in fact a problem. Before America can begin the arduous process of righting the terrible wrongs advanced, shielded, and prosecuted by the fascists in the Bush government, – Americans must demand that criminals be held accountable for crimes, abusers be held accountable for abuses, and pathological liars be held accountable for pathological lying.
    Unless and until Americans muster the courage to place IMPEACHMENT back on the table, and truly in earnest investigate and prosecute the monsterous festering legacy of Bush government deceptions, abuses, malfeasance, perversions, betrayal, dismembering, and reengineereing of the Constitution, rank lawlessness, supremist ideologies and practices, and WANTON PROFITEERING – there will be no progess in restoring credibility and hope in America, and a matastizing malignancy and inexorable stain will remain on the soul of America, on every American and on our economic future.
    The fascists in the Bush government MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE!!
    Robert F Kennedy Jr’s eloquant manifesto http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/041208Y.shtml provides a sterling example of the kind of creative thinking and hopefulness that can restore credibility and legitmacy to America and begin righting and bloody costly grievous wrongs and perversion and betrayals of America and Americans perpetuated and practiced by the fascists in the Bush government.
    Allowing the fiends and fascists in the Bush government to walk away to lucrative wingnut speaking tours, or obscenely profitable fellowships with supremist think tanks, or highly compensated consultancies with one or another wanton profiteer in the private military or private intelligence or traditional military industrial complexes – will propopate the perfidious malignancy of lawlessness, predation, supremist ideology, and WANTON PROFITEERING infecting and matasticizing in the government of America, in our economy, and in the collective soul of America.
    “Deliver us from evil!”


  9. ValleyGal says:

    David, your post continues to propagate the idea that it’s innately bad to be a Muslim, no matter how moderate.
    The idea that Islam is a terrible religion is hasbara (propaganda) generated by the pro-Israel lobby. The purpose of the hasbara is to ensure that the American public believes that all Muslims are sub-human. This enables Israel to easily persuade Americans, a dim-witted, under-educated lot to begin with, to slaughter Muslims in order to further Israel’s hegemony.
    Sure there are extremists, but there are extremists in every religion, like the “Christians” who just embraced McCain.
    Israel’s Likud and its American operatives wanted Iraq split into three (see the Perle/ Feith/ Wurmser(s) 1996 document “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”) and that’s exactly what happened, using American blood and treasure.
    Israel now wants us to attack Iran, a war that will destroy what’s left of the U.S., and yet presidential candidates have to dance around The Lobby.
    We’re talking about a matter of life and death for our country. And yet no one has the guts to tell Israel and her fan club to piss off. No one even dares talk about how Zionists control the mainstream media and the entertainment industry (and I’ve worked in both)
    In any case, many Palestinian Muslims and Christians have united against Israel.
    Here’s a site that might enlighten those who think that Palestinians would want a Muslim state. Take into account that Israel’s actions have driven out the majority of Christian Palestinians, and driven Palestinians into the arms of Hamas.
    Why are we funding an aggressive, apartheid theocracy (Israel) to begin with?
    If Israel were removed from the Middle East (last I checked the Bible/ Torah was not a legal land claim document), or had a one-state solution, then perhaps the world could have an honest discussion on the Middle East.
    A discussion not utterly distorted by the incredible power of the pro-Israel fan club, which exists not just here but also worldwide. The EU got its own pro-Israel lobby about a year-and-a-half ago.
    Articles on the European Union pro-Israel lobby:
    Time to kick Israel’s Likud and its foreign fan club to the curb. As posters above have mentioned, Israelis actually WANT peace, it’s her fan club and extremists that are causing the problems.


  10. David says:

    Your comment went up while I was writing mine, so I hadn’t seen it. Important fact. Thanks for posting it, especially for those of us still attempting to live in a fact-based world.


  11. David says:

    First, thanks for a first-hand view of this perspective. My Swiss investment banker friend (chance friendship – I don’t move anywhere near the world of investment banking, unless I happen to walk by a building which houses investment bankers) is also keenly following this election, and would echo this sentiment: ” One colleague said to me, ‘I studied in the U.S. I loved and learned from your country. But you’ve given peace a bad name, democracy a bad name – what else will you destroy?'”
    Regarding Obama’s decision to launch a Hebrew blog in Israel:
    One, Israel is central to any discussion of the Middle East.
    Two, Israel holds in its hands either peace or war in the Middle East.
    Three, who do you think will be reading that blog? Are you not aware that there is a greater percentage of progressive Israelis in Israel than in the United States, that they are less monolithic in their views in spite of the fact that death and destruction in the Israel-Palestine conflict are up close and personal for them, including a much keener awareness of what is being done to the Palestinians than exists here. The divide there seems to be between Israelis who consider Palestinians cockroaches and Israelis who consider Palestinians fellow human beings, much as our forebears here were divided between Americans who considered the people living here before we took their land savages and those who considered the Native Americans human beings.
    This move could be one of the smartest things an American who could become our next president could do. It depends, of course, on the nature of the blog, but it clearly offers the opportunity for unmediated communication from Israelis to the Obama campaign. And it would be stupid of an American with a Muslim father who wishes to become the next president of the United States not to reach out to Israelis, and by extension American Jews. Only question in the long run will be whether or not Obama thinks of Palestinians as human beings first and pawns in a political collision second, or whether he will continue the Bush administration’s adherence to the general position by American administrations – starting with George Washington and his attitude toward Native Americans – of the reverse view.
    And it would be political suicide for any serious contender for the presidency of the United States not to reaffirm her/his commitment to Israel’s security. The question is, What does the candidate understand to be in the best interest of Israel’s actual long-term security. Carter has come to understand that it requires just treatment of Palestine and the Palestinians, and that the settlements are one of the biggest obstacles to peace and justice. Peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians are inseparable. The Palestinians cannot defeat Israel, and Israel cannot destroy the Palestinians without destroying its own soul.
    The rest of the Middle East? That great old axiom seems to prevail: Nations don’t have principles, only interests. Problem with that is that the planet is beyond being able to sustain a life form that stubbornly holds to the unenlightened interpretation of that axiom, as does this administration rather blindly, and as would a McCain administration.
    An aside: I have long suspected that one of the values of recognizing the nationhood of various Native American tribes/nations is that then we could wage war against them within the acceptable notion of nation-to-nation war. This could well be one of the directions recognition of Palestinian statehood might go. I am intrigued by the arguments for a one-state solution, but Israel is officially a Jewish state, not a secular state, so that isn’t really a possibility, I don’t suppose. And the demographic shift would be totally unacceptable to the Jewish government of Israel. Nor would the Palestinians likely be predisposed to a secular government, I don’t guess. Hell, way too many Americans are opposed to a secular government under which there is freedom of and from religion, as envisioned by the crafters of our founding documents and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Tripoli.


  12. G Hazeltine says:

    A majority of Israelis want to talk to Hamas:
    as do a number of respected former Israeli defense and intelligence
    The Lobby is essentially the right wing of the Likud, and does not
    represent the views of the Israeli public in general. A blog in
    Hebrew may well be an effort to make Obama’s (potentially) more
    nuanced case directly to that public.


  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, so much for Obama just bowing to the pressure. It seems he is going to join Hillary in dropping to all fours.


  14. David Anderson says:

    It is no wonder that some people abroad are feeling hopeless about the US ability to influence events for the better. Many of us here in the US feel the same way. And with the current sabre rattling against Iran, and the president casually admitting that approval for torture came from the highest circles of government, it is not clear that we have any hope of change for the better for our own country, much less the mess we have made of the Middle East.
    I’ve fallen back on prayer. God forgive us for the wicked things these people have done in our name.
    David Andeson,
    Dallas Texas


  15. ValleyGal says:

    Geez, I wonder if every country’s getting this kind of special treatment from Obama, or is Israel just *special* 😉 ?
    By The Associated Press and Haaretz Service
    APRIL 12, 2008
    Barack Obama has launched a Hebrew blog in Israel, which an aide Eric Lynn says Obama hopes will help strengthen his ties with the Israeli public.
    The blog that opened Friday includes Obama’s speech to a pro-Israel lobby in March.
    Lynn says at the bottom of the blog that Obama is committed to Israel’s


  16. bmc says:

    “…and whether or not Americans were really ready to elect an African American with a Muslim parent.”
    I guess they don’t want to know whether or not Americans were really ready to elect a WOMAN, given the patriarchal thinking of those same “elites.”
    I get that they are intensely watching, and certainly I appreciate that they are interested in seeing what will happen in Florida and Michigan, since I am as well. Because a candidate which disenfranchises 2.3 million Democrats in order to become the nominee of a political party seems to me to be the antithesis of the long hoped-for end to the Bush Regime.
    But the fact that Zogby didn’t mention any interest or comment on “whether or not Americans were really ready to elect” a woman, stood out.
    That said, I do admire James Zogby and appreciate his work, and his insights. I’m just sayin.


  17. Steve Clemons says:

    Mr. Murder — I suspect that you may mean John Zogby on the Bush polling. James is his brother, does some polling in the Middle East, but is not doing commentary about Bush’s numbers… Right family, wrong person I think.
    Steve Clemons


  18. Mr.Murder says:

    Shouldn’t Zogby be continuing his life mission of claiming Bush’s poll numbers to be better than anyone else would say?
    He’s one of the enablers, nothing he does now can change that fact.


  19. JohnH says:

    DemocracylsAJoke–You’re absolutely right. The US has no credibility in promoting democracy. In fact, someone working to build the institutional framework for democracy in Iraq told me that Iraqi legislators regard America as a “failed model of democracy.”
    It’s time for a cessation of any American effort related to democracy promotion. US promtion of democracy wasn’t all that credible before Bush, but now it’s totally not credible.
    And America can still make a positive contribution by refraining from propping up flagrant despots, particularly those that Bush lumps into the “democracy” camp.


  20. DemocracyIsAJoke says:

    JohnH, don’t you think the US has lectured people quite enough on “democratization”? Maybe its time to treat other nations with respect instead of talking down to them and ordering them around like coolies.
    Your discussion of ME “elites” versus “masses” is nice but how can we expect anyone to take democratization talk seriously?


  21. Spunkmeyer says:

    Seems as though we have reached a tipping point where affairs
    abroad are not viewed through the prism of U.S. leading the
    charge. We’ve been so sullied by numerous abuses and basic
    violations of what America supposedly represents, you really can’t
    help but agree with the idea that our allies almost cringe at the
    thought of our involvement.
    Once the Euro is finalized as the currency of choice, I doubt we’ll
    ever go back to “the way it was.”


  22. JohnH says:

    The inner circles of the despotic regimes the US props up have good reason to worry. They are all sitting on a powder keg. Their close association with Bush makes them extremely vulnerable. And their tacit support of Bush’s Palestinian policies makes them doubly vulnerable.
    The best thing a new administration could do is pressure our friends to open their countries to democracy, so that the alienated masses have a way to get redress for their grievences. So far Bush puts pressure only on America’s opponents–allies are presumed to be “democratic” in Bush World.
    But democracy won’t help the elites that Steve talks with. They’re irreparably tainted.
    The status quo means they’re sitting on a powder keg and change means they’ll be swept away. No wonder they have a sense of hopelessness!


  23. Edward Lane says:

    When will the role of other nations in the matters of the Middle East be discussed by the candidates? When will we stop trying to save the world that doesn’t want to particiapte in the saving? What is it that we don’t understand?


  24. Edward Lane says:

    There has to be a reason for the situation as it is seen. Here are some choices:
    1. The U.S. can, in fact, have little or no positive impact. It’s up to the local governments.
    2. The U.S. can have a positive impact on the region, but stating it is perceived by the candidates to be a risk to an election if announced ahead of time.
    Seems to me, it has to be one or the other.


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