Barry, I think that a greater problem is that Leiken was invited to address an audience at the State Dept on the desirability of making nice with Hassan al-Banna's spiritual offspring. How do we explain the State Dept's willingness to be addressed on such a serious subject, as you point out, by someone who is an ignoramus on that topic, which you also point out?
Dear Mr. Green: Ignorant people chattering on about the Middle East and being taken seriously is, alas, not at all uncommon. There seems to be a feeling that reading some newspapers and talking to a few people--perhaps a two-week trip to the region- -is sufficient to grasp all the intricacies of the issues.
Of course, there are two shortcuts that mislead people. First, that since everyone is basically alike the issues and groups existing in the Middle East are parallel to those operating in North America or Europe. (There is more truth to this if the parallels are made to Western society and politics of two or more centuries ago.). For example, since everyone wants peace and prosperity all the Westerner has to do is to explain to the highly ideological, perhaps motivated by religious doctrine, extremist who has limited information and a totally different world view how to achieve these things and he will become a moderate. Ideology is not really taken seriously since everyone is supposedly at heart a pragmatist.
Second, the statements made in conversation or in interviews with Western reporters or politicians are taken to be the "real" beliefs of someone rather than what is said in Arabic for doctrinal purposes or to mobilize supporters. If a Muslim Brotherhood leader tells a visiting American who knows nothing, for example, that he favors democracy or has no particular goal on seizing power, the useful idiot believes him. What should be done, of course, is to look at that leader's many speeches and articles in Arabic or, for example, what Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarians propose in the legislature of that country. Statements made to Westerners are motivated by a desire to fool and gain advantage--"We in Hamas really want peace."
But here is a more frank assessment by Rajab Hilal Hamida, a Brotherhood member in Egypt's parliament, who said:
"From my point of view, bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri and al-Zarqawi are not terrorists in the sense accepted by some. I support all their activities, since they are a thorn in the side of the Americans and the Zionists...."
As to U.S. policy, the Bush administration is rather desperate on at least two grounds. First, fairly or otherwise, it knows itself to be wildly unpopular. Its policies, especially in Iraq, are deemed failures. It thus needs to find some new idea for its last eighteen months in office.
Second, it knows that elections have gained ground for Islamist movements in Egypt, among the Palestinians and that these movements seem to be growing. Essentially, the Bush administration has reverted to a standard establishment policy. See my article, "Bush Goes Mainstream." http://gloria.idc.ac.il/articles/2007/rubin/06_13.html
If the Muslim Brotherhoods can be made less revolutionary, more friendly, and willing to observe the rules of democracy, perhaps the "democracy" idea of Bush can still be salvaged, anti-Americanism would decline, Iraq could be stabilized, violence could be reduced, and so on. For my views on the Brotherhoods, see "Comparing Three Muslim Brotherhoods: Syria, Jordan, Egypt. http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2007/issue2/jv11no2a8.html. By the way, this article is based on a paper commissioned by Leiken but then he refused to use it because it contradicted his thesis on every point. This shows his bad faith in pretending that evidence to the contrary did not exist. He was in a position to know better and went ahead any way.
Probably U.S. policy won't change all that much but it will do tremendous damage. Why? Because of the way Middle East politics works. Hearing what is going on in Washington, and seeing what is happening, Arab liberals lose heart and say America is betraying them. Perhaps less morally dismaying but strategically more important, Arab regimes conclude that the United States is going to sponsor the Islamists against themselves. People in Washington may not understand this but people in Cairo, Riyadh, and Amman do. As a result, they will not fight back, engage in appeasement, make their own deals with Islamists, and step up their own pseudo-Islamist anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Israel rhetoric.
Much more can be said but we have one fine example right now of how Muslim Brotherhoods work. The Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood is called Hamas. And Hamas won an election, made a coalition deal, and then at the first opportunity seized full power through violence. Does anyone think that Hamas in the Gaza Strip is going to permit free elections?
So once again we see the dream-noble but very dangerous-that words and sympathy will turn enemies into friends while making serious struggles disappear. This is a very attractive idea for many in the State Department and it also appears in the Baker-Hamilton report, former Secretary of State James Baker being a key influence on current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Islamists are counting on just this type of naivet? to bring them into power. But no amount of talking, money, U.S. policy changes, or apologies are going to turn revolutionary Islamists into moderate democrats.
Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary university. His new book is The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).
You can buy his latest book The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict on Amazon.com here.
Reproduced with expressed permission from the Gloria Center.