My column this week focuses once again on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. I actually had a different column on an entirely different topic written and ready to run -- look for it next week. But then I ran into the Saudi lawyer Abd al-Aziz Hussan here in Washington, and heard more about how he has been harrassed for his defense of human rights activists. I thought it was more important to point some attention to these issues, which have largely fallen out of the international spotlight since the mid-March detention of Mohammed Fahed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamed. His case is only one small example of a much broader repressive trend across the Gulf which deserves more sustained attention and action.
Thanks to to all those Saudis who have already commented on the essay. I'd like to quickly point over to an excellent piece by former ambassador Richard LaBaron on a similar topic today, and also acknowledge Dwight Bashir's note that the U.S. Committee on International Religious Freedom did comment on Qahtani's and Hamed's detention in March. I hope you'll go over to the FP main page to read it, and I look forward to more discussion.
For some reason, this seems like a good time to post the video of my POMEPS Conversation with Christopher Davidson, author of After the Sheikhs, recorded during his visit to GW in March. Remember, you can subscribe to all the POMEPS Convos here (they will be sporadic over the summer, most likely, and then return regularly in the fall).
Meanwhile, it's been another great week of fantastic reporting and analysis on the Middle East Channel. Be sure to read them all:
- Andrew Lebovich, Confronting Tunisia's Jihadists, a carefully reported, detailed essay on Tunisia's simmering battles over salafism and new jihadist groups.
- Aaron Stein, Turkey Waits on Washington, reading the tough choices and limited options on Syria available to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.
- Nathan Brown and Mokhtar Awad, The Egyptian Judiciary Between a Japanese Tea Ceremony and World Wrestling Entertainment, diving deep into the political issues confronting the Egyptian judiciary
- Kirk Sowell, Provincial Elections and Iraq's Never Ending Crisis, a very sharp reading of how Iraq's electoral results will play out in the context of its growing violence and ongoing political struggles.
- Brian Dooley, Diplomacy, Threats, and Bahrain's Cabinet, on the remarkable criticisms of the U.S. ambassador by Bahrain's Cabinet.
Elsewhere on FP, don't miss Alia Malek's dispatch from Syria's Alawi community; Marwan Muasher's skeptical take on the attempted revival of the Arab Peace Initiative; Michael Knights' alarming take on Iraq's spiraling crisis; Thanassis Cambanis' analysis of Iran's potential quagmire in Syria; Mohamed Eljarh on the pushback against Libya's extremists; and this great photo-essay from Aleppo.
UPDATE: I just found out officially that I've been promoted to full professor here at GWU. That's a double L to the F U y'all!
-- Marc Lynch, Middle East Channel Editor
We try to keep a close eye on Yemen here at the Middle East Channel. So I'm happy to post the latest video in the POMEPS Conversations series (subscribe here to the podcast), where I sit down with Stacey Philbrick Yadav of Hobart and William Smith Colleges for a short conversation about Yemen's National Dialogue. She really has some interesting points to make about the changing roles, identities and attitudes of Yemeni protestors and the nature of the emerging political transition. For more from Yadav on Yemen, see "Best Friends Forever for Yemen's Revolutionaries?" (March 19, 2013).
For a roundup of recent articles, see POMEPS Brief #19 "Yemen's National Dialogue." Even more recently on Foreign Policy, check out: "Saving the South of Yemen From Itself", by Fatima Abou Alasrar; "Yemen's Power Wedding," by Adam Baron; "Can Yemen Talk Itself to Peace", by Farea al-Muslimi and Laura Kasinof. If you haven't seen it already, I'd also recommend "Yemen's Military-Security Reform: Seeds of a New Conflict?" from the International Crisis Group (April 2013). I've also just been reading Michael Knights, "The Military Role in Yemen's Protests", in the new issue of Journal of Strategic Studies, which has some interesting perspective on the interaction between tribes and the Yemeni military during the uprising of the last two years.
Also, I'm about halfway through Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars, which really does a great public service with its unflinching look at the political, legal and human dimensions of the U.S. drone program. It's not only about Yemen, obviously, but it plays a lead role in his investigation of the "global battlefield" as defined in both the Bush and Obama administrations. It's a very good read, especially paired with Gregory Johnsen's The Last Refuge.
The persistence of anti-American views in the Arab world represents an important policy challenge and an intriguing puzzle for political scientists. In the new issue of Foreign Affairs, I use Amaney Jamal's fascinating new book, Of Empires and Citizens: Pro-American Democracy or No Democracy At All?, to explore a range of competing arguments about Arab views of the United States (many thanks to the Foreign Affairs team for temporarily ungating the essay). As I argue in the introductory paragraphs, "even major changes, such as Bush's departure, Obama's support for some of the Arab revolts of 2011, the death of Osama bin Laden, and the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, have had surprisingly little effect on Arab attitudes toward the United States." Why? Does it matter?
Jamal's book offers a sophisticated answer focused on the domestic coalitional politics of authoritarian regimes allied with the United States. Drawing on both survey evidence and extensive interviews in Jordan and Kuwait, she traces the ways in which that alliance has distinctive distributional effects which may do more to explain why certain groups end up expressing pro-American and others anti-American views. The analysis suffers from some flaws, which I dissect in the essay, but it's an interesting analysis which poses a real challenge to prevailing theoretical explanations.
The big question which the essay seeks to engage, and to which neither Jamal nor I offer any conclusive answers, is whether and how Washington could realistically change the direction, salience, or intensity of views of the United States. The ambivalent, conflicted response to changes in U.S. policies from Egypt and Iraq to Libya and Syria show that it isn't as simple as "change unpopular policies." Nor am I persuaded by the invocations of the region supposedly yearning for American leadership which tend to be popular in Washington, if nowhere else.
In truth, none of the dominant theories really strike me as convincing, nor do many of the popular policy arguments about public diplomacy seem useful. In the essay, I point back to the arguments about cognitive bias in an influential book edited by Peter Katzenstein and Robert Keohane as one possible angle. I also think that antipathy to the U.S. is only intensified by the trends toward political polarization, more open public argument, resistance to change by U.S.-allied regimes, confusion about U.S. intention and capability to continue to underwrite the status quo, and the deep political uncertainty everywhere in the region. There are surely other explanations.
In another piece which just came out, Colin Kahl and I argue that the U.S. needs to do much more to engage with this emergent public opinion. Because of the Arab uprisings, public opinion matters more than ever before in the region, even if it isn't and shouldn't be the only consideration for the formation of policy. But understanding that public opinion and how the U.S. can effectively engage with it has never been more difficult. We try to lay out a grand strategy for the region which protects U.S. interests, "right-sizes" America's military and political presence, and responds more effectively to this potent but divided new public.
I encourage you to go read both essays, so kindly made available by Foreign Affairs and by The Washington Quarterly. These are really interesting challenges, which I don't pretend to be able to resolve conclusively -- the perfect combination for a roundtable if there's enough interest!
P.S. -- I wish I could claim credit for "Pity the Feloul", but that was all the FA editorial team!
My column this week, "How Syria Ruined the Arab Spring", tries to step back from the intervention debate to look at the broader ways in which that country's escalating horrors have altered the trajectory of political contestation across the entire region. It traces some very specific ways in which the Syrian civil war has altered the region over the last year: the endless, escalating and unavoidably visible violence; the regional proxy struggles; the focus on international intervention; the shift from unity to sectarianism; the dramatic effects on the international and Arab media coverage of the region.
The essay has already generated some really interesting commentary and discussion, particularly about trends which I might have missed or downplayed, and whether these trends could have been avoided or are at this point reversible. And then there's the predictable 57 variations on "oh noes, he called it the Arab Spring", 73 versions of "I'd like to apologize on behalf of the Syrian people for being depressing", and all the finger-pointing over who's to blame for the disaster. Duly noted. But can anyone really deny that Syria's uprising has taken a very different path and has had a very different impact on its people and on the region than any other of the Arab uprisings?
My essay is only one of many efforts to make sense of those differences and trends, and like all of them may well get some important points or degrees of emphasis wrong. I really wanted to try to broaden the discussion beyond the intense debate going on right now about intervention, chemical weapons red lines, and the like -- though I'm sure I'll engage on those soon enough as well. But for now, I look forward to a discussion on the broader trajectories -- thanks to those who have already contributed, and to those who will. So go on and read my essay on Syria's effects on the path of the Arab uprisings.
My FP column this week takes a look at the growing crackdown by the monarchs of the Gulf on perceived "insults." I argue that their campaign is a clear signal of their declining power and legitimacy: confident leaders don't need to arrest people for criticizing them. It's another manifestation of the inability of traditional authoritarian regimes to control or tolerate the rapidly transforming new Arab public spheres -- and one which poses unique challenges to the monarchies, which have invested so heavily in the notion that they command a distinctive legitimacy and respect. Once again, this is why I don't buy the popular notion that the Gulf monarchies have somehow avoided the Arab uprisings -- look beneath the surface of regime survival, and it's obvious that public politics across the GCC are changing rapidly and in potentially unpredictable ways.
So go on over to the main page and read "The Kings of Cowardice."
This is just a placeholder post to alert blog readers that my weekly column came out yesterday: "Did We Get the Muslim Brotherhood Wrong? Nope, but that's not enough." The column looks back to pre-revolution academic writing on Egypt's MB and tries to assess what it got right, what it got wrong, and what has to change given the new circumstances. It's generated some great feedback already, along with some of the usual silliness. I'm hoping to be able to put together a roundtable/response post some time early next week, so shoot me a line if you're interested in contributing to that. I might also throw together a bibliography of that academic literature for those interested in pursuing the topic. But for now be sure to check the column out!
Last night was a big one for foreign policy bloggers and for Foreign Policy bloggers at the International Studies Association. At the first annual reception for International Studies Blogging organized by our friends at the Duck of Minerva, the Duck's Dan Nexon announced the winners of the first annual OAIS (Outstanding Achievement in Interrnational Studies) Awards, i.e. the "Duckies." FP's Dan Drezner won the prize for Best Blog. And I won the Special Achievement Award, defined as having made "an outstanding contribution to the development, legitimation, and forwarding of international studies blogging."
That's a great honor for a little old Aardvark. It's humbling to be recognized out of so many great peers and colleagues -- I guess now I have to try to actually blog more! So many sincere and profound thanks to all. A full list of the winners, including Erica Chenoweth and Barbara Walter for Political Violence at a Glance for Best New Blog, will likely be posted over at the Duck soon.
The Duckies were fun, and I think they are part of something important about the growing centrality of blogging for political science and international studies. The large, enthusiastic crowd at the reception revealed the increasingly robust intellectual community around these blogs. The fact that the reception was hosted by Sage and placed on the official conference program signals growing institutional acceptance. And that's the context in which the Duck's Dan Nexon has just been named the new editor in chief for the association's flagship journal International Studies Quarterly with an insanely ambitious plan to incorporate online engagement and blog-tested innovations.
I have to get back to the conference and don't have time to dig in right now, but the debates about the role of public online engagement in our scholarly portfolios and the changing realities of academic publishing and public engagement are only going to accelerate. I'm excited to see them and plan to write more about this all soon. But for now, back to the ISA!
We've heard an awful lot this week about how various American pundits and politicians feel about the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, what they think they did and didn't get wrong, and what lessons the U.S. should learn for the next war (apparently "don't start one" isn't one of the answers). But we've heard a lot less from the people most affected by the war: Iraqis.
My FP column this week takes a hard look at the absence of Iraqi voices in the American commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This matters. It isn't just an ethical blind spot, it's a strategic failing. We might have expected the Arab uprisings and the Anbar Awakening to have changed things, directing more attention to what's happening inside Arab countries than to what the United States is doing. But not so much. You can read it on the FP main page - I hope you find it of interest.
With the launch of Yemen's National Dialogue Conference this week, I'm happy to announce that we have just released the 19th POMEPS Brief, a free PDF collection of Middle East Channel essays on Yemeni politics and the prospects for national consensus. The collection includes essays by an outstanding array of scholars and analysts such as Holger Albrecht, April Alley, Adam Baron, Stephen Day, Danya Greenfield, Tik Root, Peter Salisbury, Silvana Toska, Lisa Wedeen and Stacey Philbrick Yadav. It also has an original introductory essay by me, which poses some bigger questions raised by the analysis by the Yemen experts. Download the free PDF here.
Are you going to the International Studies Association in San Francisco this year? Well, I've got two awesome receptions for you to consider attending:
- On Thursday, April 4 at 7:30pm, come to the very first International Blogging Reception, hosted by Sage and the good folks at the Duck of Minerva. There will be some presentations, a lot of your favorite bloggers, and the presentation of the first annual OAIS Awards for blogging in international studies (I'm not sure what OAIS stands for but the awards will forever be known as "Duckies.")
- On Friday, April 5 at 6pm, come to the first POMEPS ISA reception to hang out with Middle East specialists and their friends who want free drinks and good conversation. These have been a huge hit at the American Political Science Association and Middle East Studies Association conferences, and I'm thrilled to be able to host one for the first time at ISA.
I'm also on a panel about diffusion and the Arab uprisings on Friday afternoon. Drop me a line if you want to try to get together at the conference about a book you're doing which you think might be a good fit for the Columbia Series on Middle East Politics which I edit, or anything else on your mind. This is my first time at ISA in many years and I'm looking forward to it.
Finally, I will be in Italy on a family vacation for the next week and only infrequently checking email, Twitter, or anything else besides gelato, vino, espresso and pasta. The only exception to vacation time: I will be giving a public talk at the University of Venice on Monday, March 25, at 4pm, so if you're lucky enough to live in the Venice area definitely come by. I'll also be in Florence and Rome (where I'm excited at the possibility of seeing the new Pope at the Good Friday Procession) but don't expect to be doing any public events.
And just for good measure, here's this:
It was done as a birthday present by my old Williamstown friends Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson, who run the wonderful Idiot's Books mini-press and blog. It may be my favorite thing ever.
So enjoy the rest of March, read my column, download the Yemen brief, RSVP for the ISA receptions, and root for Duke in the tourney!
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.