Not favorable news for those who know Lewis's work and biases, plus the
fact that Donald Rumsfeld reportedly spent many weekends in Princeton
being tutored about the Middle East by Lewis so that he'd know how to
deal with Iraq. On the other hand, Doran is no longer spreading his
words at Princeton. However, the NSC is a lot more important than
Princeton, at least at the moment.
An Eye for Terror Sites*
NSC Puts Scholar in Charge of Middle East
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 17, 2005; A29
Michael S. Doran may have been destined to work for a Republican
administration. During the 1972 presidential campaign, his father ran
him around Carmel, Ind., to rip down posters of Democratic candidate
George McGovern. His father was a Republican precinct committeeman.
"That was fun for a 10-year-old," Doran recalled recently.
But Doran ended up at the National Security Council staff in charge of
the Middle East because of his unusual specialty: He is a 21st century
scholar -- an aficionado of Muslim extremist Web sites.
At Princeton, Doran was on the Web as early as 5 a.m. to track the
latest commentaries, manifestoes or /fatwas/ from militant groups. His
work soon put him on the map.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda, Doran wrote a defining
piece in Foreign Affairs magazine -- "Somebody Else's Civil War" -- that
Middle East experts still cite.
Osama Bin Laden had "no intention of defeating America," Doran wrote.
"War with the United States was not a goal in and of itself but rather
an instrument designed to help his brand of extremist Islam survive and
flourish among the believers."
Al Qaeda wanted Washington to dispatch U.S. troops to the Islamic world,
so Muslims would turn on governments allied with the United States --
and provoke their collapse, Doran explained. "Americans, in short, have
been drawn into somebody else's civil war."
That argument is at the heart of U.S. policy in the Islamic world, which
has shifted from President Bush's first-term focus on fighting terrorism
to the second's emphasis on democracy as the salve to extremism.
"Mike is one of the most interesting folks in the field. He's
astonishingly creative and independent," said Gideon Rose, Foreign
Affairs' managing editor. "He understands radical Islamists the way they
He was also a natural fit for the Bush administration. Doran got the job
in August in part because of his "extremely interesting articles," said
national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, adding that Doran's
comments on U.S. policy were "thoughtful and useful."
Doran's views are not without controversy -- nor is he afraid to spark
debate. In an interview, he described Middle East studies on American
campuses as "stultifying, homogenous and conformist." The field has
"gone into a dead end. It's highly politicized and dominated by one
point of view," reflecting the pro-Arab "orientalism" of the late
Palestinian-born Columbia University scholar Edward W. Said.
Yet experts who differ with Doran praise his scholarship.
"Mike's politics on the Middle East are pure neo-con," said the
University of Vermont's F. Gregory Gause III. "He believes democracy has
to come to the region and America should play a major role. . . . He
thinks Arab public expression for the Palestinians is really about anger
at their own governments. I disagree."
Gause said he used to urge Doran to log off his computer and take his
wife to dinner, in part because the Islamic Web sites represent a "very
small slice of the debate. It's among the privileged -- the ones on the
Internet." But, Gause added, "Mike wrote the best piece after 9/11."
Reports that Princeton had deferred tenure, in part because of an offer
on another campus, sparked an outpouring on student blogs last March.
"He leans to the . . . gasp . . . right? No tenure for you," one blogger
wrote. "It's amazing he's lasted this long," another wrote.
Doran never expected to play the role of new thinker or iconoclast.
"Water polo was my life until college," he said. An All-America in high
school, he played for Stanford as a freshman. He had no interest in the
Middle East -- and had never been abroad -- until a professor suggested
the region might interest him.
Doran, an Irish Catholic from Middle America whose parents did not go to
college, ended up in Israel for three years, learning Hebrew and enough
Arabic to get by. "The Middle East was just a totally different
universe," Doran recalled. He came away thinking he wanted to specialize
in the 500-year Ottoman rule of the region -- until he translated a key
concept incorrectly for a major paper.
"A good rule in the Middle East is that you should work on periods after
the advent of the typewriter," he reflected. "Looking at Ottoman
manuscripts, you have to be philologically talented."
The 1991 Persian Gulf War shifted Doran's focus to current Middle East
events. He wrote his thesis on modern Egypt.
After graduate work at Princeton, Doran taught at the University of
Central Florida, then returned to Princeton. "He was a brilliant
teacher, which is an understatement," said Avrom Udovitch, who was
Doran's professor and then a colleague. "He had a cult of followers."
Udovitch was also impressed that between Doran's early morning obsession
with Islamic Web sites and his heavy teaching schedule, he ironed his
own shirts every day. "He has very traditional personal habits,"
Former student Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky said Doran made an impression on
him at Princeton, when four or five male streakers ran into Doran's
class as a prank. Doran coolly shut the door so the streakers couldn't
leave without asking. "He took command of the situation,"
His politics, Princeton affiliation and scholarship have led colleagues
and students to call Doran a "young Bernard Lewis," a leading scholar
whose work -- including "The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy
Terror" and "What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in
the Middle East" -- influenced the administration's response to the
Sept. 11 attacks.
"It's flattering, although I'm not sure why," Lewis said, adding that
Doran's scholarship on Islamic Web sites is "important and original."
Lewis, who has emeritus status at Princeton, noted that Doran's lectures
were so popular they had to be moved every year to larger lecture halls.
Doran now works out of a barren office in the Eisenhower Executive
Office Building. He deals with topics including Iran's disputed nuclear
program, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Syria's ties to terrorists and
reform in the oil-rich Persian Gulf kingdoms.
Now that he's in government, Doran finds he no longer has the time to
fully explore the intelligence that he longed for as an academic. In one
recent 24-hour period, he had 2,714 items in his intelligence folder. He
described himself as a kid in a candy shop -- who can't eat all the free
© 2005 The Washington Post Company