They Got It Right: (6) Shibley Telhami
Recorded Wed, October 31
Can anybody head off a new war that we know will end badly? This is Shibley Telhami’s question at the end of our conversation about the Iran sequel to the misery in Iraq. His answer seems to be: No — we’re in the trap already, headed for the grinder.

Shibley Telhami: on the slippery slope

Professor Telhami at the University of Maryland is the only scholar we’ve interviewed in this series who briefed Karl Rove five years ago on the fallout of war on Iraq. Telhami proceeded to sign the prophetic New York Times ad in September, 2002 that spelled out the disaster unfolding then. Rove seemed to be listening for political damage to his boss, and heard nothing of what Telhami was warning about: damage to American standing in the Middle East , in the mirror, everywhere.

Shibley Telhami has a straight-talking individual voice in think-tank circles around Washington. He speaks from a fascinating personal history. He was born into a family of peacemakers and conciliators in an Arab Christian minority in a village near Haifa in 1951, when Israel was 3 years old. In Israeli and private schools, his first degrees were in mathematics and then philosophy before he took up international relations with Kenneth Waltz at Berkeley and more recently: polling in the Mideast.

So he is a social-science theorist with a flood of facts and factoids at his fingertips. Arab opinion, he says, is the flip of what the Bush White House wants to believe. That is: Arab Muslims, in fact, love Americans for our democratic values, (who we are), and hate us for our imperial policies, (what we do). We’re still the land of freedom and opportunity and the place for the ambitious to study and grow; but next to nobody believes the US is about “spreading democracy” or even a “war on terror” in the Middle East. There’s a “pervasive anger with the United States” in the Middle East today, Telhami says, and a 80- to 90-percent consensus that American policy is to “control oil, help Israel, and weaken the Muslim world.”

The US choice on attacking Iraq sounds spookily beyond rational or even political control.


Grand Strategy: Posen on Obama
Recorded Fri, December 19/08
Barry Posen is a very smart, connected foreign-policy “realist” who runs the MIT Security Studies Program. He was one of those prized 33 policy types who signed the New York Times ad in September, 2002, arguing that “War with Iraq is not in America’s National Interest.”
Barry Posen of MIT

He isn’t always right. A little more than a year ago, he was pretty sure that Dick Cheney would get his last big wish in office, a thundering strike on Iran: ”There will probably be a series of air raids,” Barry Posen begins, that will leave the mullahs’ regime standing but lethally enraged, and will thicken the air of a universal American confrontation with Islam. And then…? But he wasn’t so far off. ”It’s going to take an accumulation of costly mistakes to turn the elite in this country toward a policy of realism and a policy of restraint,” he said to me. Perhaps a decisive presidential election would set another direction.

Or perhaps not. Posen argued “The Case for Restraint” in The American Interest Online:

“The United States needs to be more reticent about the use of military force; more modest about the scope for political transformation within and among countries; and more distant politically and militarily from traditional allies. We thus face a choice between habit and sentiment on the one side, realism and rationality on the other… ”

In James Der Derian’s global security class at Brown University this month, Barry Posen read the Obama tea leaves and appointments — and judged that the President-elect may yet be in the grip of habit and sentiment in the realm of strategy: