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.