Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2006 08:23:15 EST
Subject: Ledeen flops
Michael Ledeen (of the American Enterprise Institute, who might be described as the most extreme and doctrinaire of the neo-cons) bombed in his talk at Princeton two nights ago. Although escorted on his arrival by an honor guard of apparently orthodox Jewish students, he was heckled and angrily questioned by Muslim young people from (I guessed from their accents) Palestine, Turkey, Pakistan and especially Iran ---- exactly the population that Ledeen was claiming would welcome U.S. covert action to rid them of their tyrannical rulers.
He ended up losing his cool completely --- calling them "children" and suggesting that they were naive and ignorant of the real world. One particular line of reasoning most seriously antagonized these proud young people --- "the tyrants whom you passively allow to rule you are exhorting you to wage a terrorist war to the death against America. These reactionary despots do not hate America and wage terrorist war against America because of American policies (Israel, etc.), but because America's freedom and prosperity challenge their ability to oppress and exploit you.
The United States should overturn and destroy all the corrupt and repressive governments in the Middle East --- starting with Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia --- and then you (Muslim youth) will be free to create new, modern societies that emulate American cultural, economic and political values." (Paraphrasing) It was fascinating to me to observe that this thesis, especially coming from a man with Ledeen's credentials, was deeply offensive to the majority of his audience.
Interestingly, I thought the most vocal and articulate critics of Ledeen were some young Iranian women, very Westernized and intellectually sophisticated, who were obviously deeply offended at the patronizing way that Ledeen told them what their hopes and ambitions should be.
There is an old and eternal lessen here for all of us (excluding Ledeen, who's too arrogant and self-assured to learn anything): it is that nobody outside their culture, and especially not an American, can tell the young people of the Muslim and Arab worlds today what they should believe, how they should act, and what kind of society they should be building for themselves. Attempts to do so will only turn them off, no matter what their personal beliefs and aspirations may be.