Addict (drugaddict) wrote,

Gloomy discussion w Dr. John Waterbury, retiring President,

Conversations with Dr. John Waterbury, President of   the American

       April 1, 2007

             Conversations: An American in Beirut


       Posted by Scott MacLeod |

       When I heard John Waterbury was stepping down as president
       <> of the American
       University of Beirut <>, I phoned him to ask
       how his 10-year tenure had gone. I was slightly taken aback by
       Waterbury's gloom when I asked him how he saw things generally in
       the Middle East. He offered a long-term view that was disturbing but
       certainly thought-provoking.

           "I have been working and living in the Middle East since
           1959-1960," he said, "and I have never seen a period in which
           U.S.-Arab or U.S.-Middle Eastern relations have been at a lower
           ebb. What really has discouraged me and depressed me in this
           situation is that anything that the U.S. advocates, even
           policies that I think in other times would have been
   listened to
           seriously if not respected, are now denounced simply because
           they emanate from Washington. The whole democracy agenda is
           simply identified with the Bush administration. Democracy
           advocates can't hold their heads up. They are immediately
           accused of trying to carry out the Bush agenda in the Middle
           East and somehow being complicit in all aspects of U.S. policy.
           Liberalism has kind of disappeared as a force. It is very hard
           for a liberal or a democrat to advocate their agenda without
           being tarred with the brush of being a lackey of the Bush
           administration. The ground is shaking under their feet.

           "Why I think relations are so bad, unprecedented in my
           experience," he added, "is that we have managed to alienate our
           friends. Over the decades, even in the police states of the
           Middle East, a rather large middle class has built up alienated
           from their own regimes. They were fairly well disposed towards
           the West and towards the United States. We have lost them.
           Either they are scared to speak up. Or they are flat out

       I've always had great respect for the university and the man. AUB is
       one of the finest universities in the Middle East, and represents
       the best of what America has offered the Arab world. AUB began
       spreading American ideas and values well over a century before the
       Bush administration discovered the merits of doing so through Karen
       Hughes's public diplomacy or Liz Cheney's Middle East Partnership
       Initiative. Since it opened its doors in 1866, initially as a
       project of Presbyterian missionaries, AUB has educated tens of
       thousands of Arabs. AUB imbued its students with ideals such as open
       society, tolerance and free debate that were often lacking in their
       own countries. A list of AUB graduates is a Who's Who of the Arab
       world that includes leading government ministers, educators and
       businessmen. To name two: Ghassan Tueni, the legendary owner of the
       An Nahar publishing house in Beirut, and Marwan Muasher, a former
       Jordanian deputy prime minister who has just been appointed senior
       vice president of the World Bank.

       Americans like Waterbury have provided a tremendous service to the
       Arabs and to fellow Americans as well, often at great personal risk.
       Former AUB President David Dodge was held hostage by Iranian-backed
       Muslim radicals for a year. His brave successor was Malcolm Kerr,
       who was assassinated outside his office by a suspected Islamic
       extremist in January 1984. I was in Beirut at the time, a few blocks
       away, and can tell you that it was a very black day for Lebanon and
       for America. Kerr, who was born in Beirut of parents who taught at
       AUB, was a leading Arabist of his generation. Waterbury, originally
       a specialist on Morocco who taught at Princeton for 20 years, was
       the first president to take up residence again in Beirut after
       Kerr's death. Since 1998 he has revived AUB's fortunes and spirits,
       significantly upgrading academic excellence and campus
   facilities alike.

       When Waterbury told me that despite AUB's success he saw the
       potential for worse in the region, I listened.

           "There is more room to fall," he said. "We have taken moderate,
           middle-class professional people, who looked to the United
           States --not to come in and provide solutions, but to help them
           carve out some political space in their own countries-- and
           now have given up hope and turned away from us. That's bad in
           itself. But why I think it could get worse is those are the very
           people who have the means to leave. They have connections
           abroad. My fear is that they are going to start bailing out and
           reestablish in Los Angeles, or Hamburg, or Paris, or Australia.
           So as a political force in the region for moderation and a
           reasonable dialogue with the West, they may begin to disappear.
           It happened in Iran after the 1979 revolution. It is happening
           en masse in Iraq. If there is reconciliation, I don't know who
           is left to reconcile. What you leave behind are going to be very
           difficult and ornery actors let alone elements that could
           sustain some kind of democratic system in Iraq.

           "My fear is that we're going to see this constant erosion of a
           potentially pro-western middle class in the Middle East, as they
           are ground down by their own authoritarian regimes and a U.S.
           actor that has so far engaged with the region in forceful and
           muscular confrontation. I'm struck by how much change takes
           place from generation to generation. In any 20-25-year period,
           we can see rather dramatic shifts in mood and the way people
           think about things. I stress this because we have a tendency to
           fight the last battle and not anticipate the new one. It's
           extraordinarily hard to predict what we might be looking at in
           15 or 20 years from now. Things may go much better than I'm
           anticipating, or they might actually go much worse."

       What explains this situation? According to Waterbury, it is related

           "...the current situation of confrontational politics between
           the United States and the Middle East. I think it's pretty
           simple. There are a number of policies which I would call the
           military-coercive policies of the United States which for
           whatever reasons are highly unpopular in the Middle East. The
           invasion and so-called occupation of Iraq. From the point of
           view of most Middle Easterners, a kind of blind U.S. backing for
           Israel's policies in the West Bank and the occupied territories
           in general. These are the two flash points. They are so deeply
           and hugely unpopular that it is quite easy for the major
           adversaries of the United States in the Middle East to
           anything coming from Washington with these unpopular policies.

           "Anytime a non-Middle Eastern power puts troops on the
   ground, I
           think you can expect a huge reaction. The Middle East has been
           the subject of foreign invasion and occupation for a very long
           time. So it is a very gut instinct for Middle Easterners to
           react very negatively and suspiciously to a foreign force on its
           ground. When a 140,000 of those troops happen to come from the
           most powerful nation in the world, that kind of makes it even
           worse. It may have looked totally justifiable to us sitting
           across the Atlantic to have done so, particularly in light of
           9/11, but it really was just a matter of time, and not very much
           time, before that presence would be resented, opposed, feared,
           denounced. That has enormously complicated a long ongoing
           situation of resentment of U.S. support for Israel and its
           struggle with its Arab neighbors."

       Waterbury says he's seen the problem first-hand in the aftermath of
       Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution."

           "The so-called opposition has to some extent successfully
           identified [Prime Minister] Fouad Siniora with a kind of blind
           loyalty or even lackeyism towards the Bush administration," he
           said. "It's an unfair portrayal of Siniora and his government,
           but it is one that I think has some resonance with many
           Lebanese. That is unfortunate, because Siniora's government was
           democratically elected, and yet the legitimately that should
           have come with that has been severely tarnished by his image as,
           to put it unkindly, as a puppet of Washington."

       Waterbury's prescription?

           "Not an easy one. I don't see how the damage that has been done
           can be rectified in any short period of time. I think it's the
           work of at least two or three administrations if all went well
           to begin to repair the damage. I don't want to be naive. At the
           end of the day, this is the greatest military and economic power
           on earth and I would never expect many people to love us or
           welcome us into the neighborhood. Repairing the damage would be
           entering into a much less confrontational and more interactive
           and cooperative mode with the Middle East. With the
           understanding that no one is ever going to throw roses to
           Washington, no matter what administration is in there. We are
           just too big and frightening for that ever to be the case."

       --By Scott MacLeod/Cairo

"The idea that it's going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind I
think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990. Five days or five
weeks or five months,
but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that . . . It won't
be a World War  III." - Donald Rumsfeld, 11/15/02

America has been in Iraq longer than it was in World War II. It has been
50 months since military operations in Iraq began.
As of May 1, 2007, American troops have been in Iraq for 1,504 days
the  equivalent of 214 weeks. [NPR, 11/27/06]

Four years after "Mission Accomplished," American troop levels in Iraq
are where they were in May 2003. There were 150,000 American troops in
Iraq in May 2003.
Today there are 146,000 troops in Iraq. [Brookings Institution, 4/23/07]

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