Bsrry Rubin: Blasts Middle East experts who lack expertise

Historians in the News

[Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary university and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs |(MERIA) Journal. His new book, The Truth About Syria, is being published by Palgrave-Macmillan in May. ]

Dear Career Counselor:

I am in bad shape. I cannot get a job or support myself. I want to be rich and famous and powerful but I have no idea what to do. Can you suggest a powerful, prestigious, high-paying field where I need do no study or training?

Destitute and Dumb.

Dear D&D:

I’m so glad you wrote me as I have the perfect solution: become an expert on the Middle East and Islam. It’s easy, painless (for you, though many others will pay for it with their lives), and profitable. Just look at these examples:

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Sure they were tenured professors but they hadn’t produced anything of note in years. Then they had an idea: write a paper attacking the power of the Jewish lobby. Years of study? Intensive research? Nah. A few hours by a grad student on the internet. Result: Fame, a huge book contract, invitations to speak, largely respectful media coverage! Within months.

Or how about Bob Leiken, a washed-up Latin American expert, former Marxist revolutionary. The Left hated him because he worked with Oliver North in supporting the Nicaraguan Contras. Even North made fun of him. Things got so bad he had to sell his house and move his family into an apartment. Things looked dim. And then, presto! A grant from a foundation, another grant from the CIA, two articles in Foreign Affairs, a contract with Oxford University Press. Invited to brief the State Department. All this within about a year. Why? Because he decided to be an instant Middle East expert. Did he take courses, learn languages, spend hours reading texts? Nope. Just sat in a room with some radical Islamists. They told him they were moderates. He wrote it down.

And like the great language expert, the rival of Henry Higgins, who in My Fair Lady proclaims that the flowerseller Eliza Doolittle is a Hungarian princess of royal blood, Leiken proclaims that the radical Islamists are really moderates who the United States can engage. "Wow!" says Condi Rice. "Do tell," asks the State Department.

Has he read their extremist statements in Arabic? Nope, who needs Arabic. How about the translations and academic papers on the subject? Waste of time. Study of Koranic and Islamic sources? That’s for wimps and suckers. All you have to do is talk to them and then, you know. Because hardline supporters of terrorism who cheer the murder of people by kidnappers and suicide bombers wouldn’t lie to you, would they?

Or how about Mary Habeck? A military historian, lost her job at Yale. Hey, why is everyone else having all the fun! I’ll be an expert on the Middle East and on Islam too! So she loaded up the truck and took a brief trip to Iraq. Next thing you know she’s got a book, testifies to Congress, is briefing Hilary Clinton, and being consulted by the great and powerful. Does she know anything about Islam? She thinks that jihad is an inner struggle, not having much to do with smiting infidels and conquering lands. But what’s the difference? If you don’t want to do so you don’t have to see the dead bodies produced by your advice.

So what are you waiting for? How could you not decide to be a Middle East expert or a sage about Islam? You’d have to be crazy not to do it.

Operators are standing by.

(By the way, all of the above is completely true—and other examples could be cited. But if not cast in the form of a satire, who’d believe it? And remember: it isn't as if the fate of Western civilization, freedom, and democracy were at stake or anything important like that.)

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