by Professor Barry Rubin
Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, "That which does not kill me makes me
stronger." A good Middle East equivalent, at least among the anti-democratic
forces, would be: That which does not scare me makes me bolder.
Can things get worse with the Obama Administration's foreign-and especially
Middle East--policy? Yes, it's not inevitable but I have just seen
personally a dangerous example of what could be happening next. In fact, I
never expected that the administration would try to recruit me in this
campaign, as you'll see starting with paragraph seven.
First, a little background. One of the main concerns with the Obama
Administration is that it would go beyond just engaging Syria and Iran,
turning a blind eye to radical anti-American activities throughout the
To cite some examples, it has not supported Iraq in its protests about
Syrian-backed terror, even though the group involved is al-Qaida, with which
the United States is supposedly at war. Nor has it launched serious efforts
to counter Iran's help to terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan or even
Tehran's direct cooperation with al-Qaida. We know about many of these
points because of General David Petraeus's remarks, buried in his
congressional testimony but not trumpeted by the mass media.
Beyond this, though, there has been the possibility of the U.S. government
engaging Hizballah. It is inadequate to describe Hizballah as only a
terrorist movement. But it is accurate to describe it as: a Lebanese Shia
revolutionary Islamist movement that seeks to gain control over Lebanon, is
deeply anti-American, is a loyal client of Iran and Syria, uses large
amounts of terrorism, and is committed to Israel's destruction. Hizballah
engages in Lebanese politics, including elections, as one tactic in trying
to fulfill these goals.
We have seen steps by the current British government toward engaging
Hizballah. And the rationale for doing so is based partly on the fact that
Hizballah is now part of the Lebanese governing coalition. Of course, in
playing a role in that coalition, Hizballah tries to ensure Syria-Iranian
hegemony, threatens the lives of American personnel, and other activities
designed to destroy any U.S. influence in the region.
And let's remember that Hizballah may well have been involved in the murder
of courageous politicians and journalists in Lebanon who opposed
Syria-Iran-Hizballah control over their country. True, direct involvement
hasn't been proven but they are accessories since they have done everything
possible to kill the international investigation into the matter. And the
trail certainly leads back to their Syrian patrons.
Here's where I come in. I have received a letter asking me personally to
help with a research project. I have spoken to well-informed people who tell
me that the statements I am about to quote are accurate. It is highly
possible that the link with the Obama Administration is exaggerated, but
this indeed does come from the White House's favorite think tank.
While not mentioning the names of those involved they are known for
supporting the idea that Hizballah is really quite moderate. The letter says
that this is a project for the Center for American Progress and that the
results "will be presented to senior U.S. policymakers in the
I am asked to participate by giving my opinions on how the United States can
deal with Hizballah "short of engagement" and "would Israeli leaders see
benefit in the U.S. talking with Hizballah about issues which are of crucial
importance to Israel?"
Answer to first question: Oppose it in every way possible.
Answer to second question: What the [insert obscene words I don't use] do
you think they would say!
The letter continues:
"As you've noted, some like John Brennan [advisor to the president on
terrorism] is already thinking about a more flexible policy towards
Hizballah and it would be extremely useful to get your views on this to
ensure anything decided is done properly."
I read this letter-and that impression is confirmed by those knowledgeable
about this project and those involved-as saying that the Center for American
Progress is going to issue a report calling for U.S. engagement with
Hizballah, and that it has been encouraged to do so by important officials
in the Obama Administration.
The phrase "to ensure anything decided is done properly," I take as a
give-away to the fact that they are going to push for direct dealing with
Hizballah but want to be able to say that they had listened to alternative
They merely, I am told by those who know about this project, intend to talk
to some who disagree for appearances' sake and throw in a sentence or two to
give the report the slightest tinge of balance.
The person heading this project has already endangered the lives of brave
Lebanese. For example, he claimed without foundation that Christians were
planning to launch a war on Hizballah, providing a splendid rationale for
Hizballah to murder opponents on the excuse of doing so in self-defense.
Accepting Hizballah rule is defined as the Christians recognizing they are a
minority and trying to get along with their Muslim neighbors.
In other words, those opposing Hizballah are presented as aggressors while
Hizballah is just the reasonable party that wants to get along. Moreover all
this leaves out the community, about the same size as the Christians and
Shia Muslims, that has been leading the resistance to Syria, Iran, and
Hizballah: the Sunni Muslims.
In short, the person directing the project talks like a virtual agent of
Hizballah and its allies, basically repeating what they tell him.
Aside from the fact that Hizballah is not and will not be moderate there are
two other problems that these silly people don't comprehend.
The first is the signal that such statements send to Arabs and especially
Lebanese. Concluding that the United States is selling them out and jumping
onto the side of the Islamist revolutionaries (an idea that sounds
implausible in Washington but very easily accepted as true in Riyadh,
Beirut, Amman, and Cairo), Arab moderates will be demoralized, rush to
become appeasers, and seek to cut their own deals with what they perceive as
the winning side.
The second is the signal that such statements send to the radicals
themselves. Concluding that the United States fears them and acknowledges
their moral superiority and strategic success, they will be more arrogant
Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, "That which does not kill me makes me
stronger." A good Middle East equivalent would be: That which does not scare
me makes me bolder.
The last time I was in this situation, it involved a government-funded
report about Islamist movements. What I didn't know is that the word had
been passed to the project director from the government agency that he was
supposed to urge engagement with Islamists. The intention was to keep out
anything critical of the idea. At first, then, I was told to my surprise
that my paper would be responded to by another paper written by a supporter
of engaging Islamists.
When my paper was submitted, however, it was apparently too strong, it was
quickly rejected in an insulting way, and I wasn't paid for my work. The fix
was in and those involved were richly rewarded for saying what was wanted,
though the actual implementation of such a policy would be disastrous for
U.S. interests, as well as for millions of Arabs as well as Israelis.
Friends of mine have had similar experiences recently regarding papers
arguing, for example, that engaging Syria is a great idea and that Damascus
can be made moderate and split away from Iran. This is all nonsense, but
honors and money are to be gained by saying such things.
So I'm not going to help provide a fig leaf for something masquerading as a
serious study but set up to advocate a dreadful policy. It would be the
equivalent of participating in a mid-1930s' project designed to show that
Germany had no more ambitions in Europe, a mid-1940s' project that the USSR
wanted to be friends, or a late 1970s' project that Ayatollah Khomeini was a
moderate and that an Islamist Iran would pose no threats.
It's bad enough to live through an era of dangerous and terrible policy
decisions, it's much worse to be complicit in them.
Optional note: I didn't put in links but you can find extensive materials on
British moves toward engaging Hizballah; Brennan's views; Hizballah threats
against U.S. officials; close connections with Iran and Syria, Iranian and
Syrian involvement in anti-American terrorism; and other such matters in my
Professor Barry Rubin is the Director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to
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