Thursday, May 12, 2005

Michael Scott Doran to join the National Security Council? 

The Daily Princetonian is reporting that Michael Scott Doran, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, is the Bush Administration's pick to replace Elliot Abrams to head the Israel-Palestine desk at the National Security Council.

Professor Doran is thought to be hawkish by the standards of American academics, and is often described as a protege of Bernard Lewis, the famous historian of the Middle East, Islam and the Arab world. He has written extensively on the impact of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs and the relevance of that vacillating war to American strategy. In particular, Professor Doran has argued that the issue of Palestine is more symbolic in Arab politics than it is substantive to Arab interests. In addition, he has argued against the idea that resolution of the conflict in Palestine will have a significant impact on support -- such as it is -- for al Qaeda in the Arab world. Professor Doran argued more than two years ago that there was, in effect, no concession that Israel could make that would satisfy Arab radicals:
When toppling Saddam Hussein rose to the top of the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda, a chorus of voices protested that Washington had misdiagnosed the root cause of its Middle Eastern dilemmas. "It's Palestine, stupid!" was the refrain heard not only from European and Arab capitals, but from some quarters in the United States as well. These voices argued that attacking Iraq while the Israelis were reoccupying Palestinian lands would substantiate the claim, already widespread in the Middle East, that the United States had declared war against all Arabs and Muslims. The ensuing backlash would undermine the American position in the region and wreak havoc on American interests. What Washington really needed to do was postpone or abandon a showdown with Saddam and focus instead on achieving a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Unqualified U.S. support for Israel, the critics reason, drives a wedge between Washington and the Arabs, most of whom support Palestinian aspirations; for the United States to improve its regional position, it must remove the wedge by tilting somewhat toward the Palestinians. The problem with this argument is that it rests on two hidden and faulty assumptions: about how much Washington would have to change its stance, and about how much goodwill that change would produce.

Unfortunately, Americans and Arabs nurture such different conceptions of what constitutes a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it is hard to imagine Washington ever adopting a policy toward it that would be truly popular in the Arab world. The most "pro-Palestinian" policy realistically conceivable would look something like the Clinton plan presented in late 2000, but even this would entail major Palestinian compromises (such as the renunciation of the right of pre-1967 refugees to return to their homes inside Israel proper). Under the right conditions, a handful of Arab leaders might be induced to endorse such a settlement, but they would be denounced by others as puppets of Washington and the Jews. Suicide bombings would very likely continue, and the United States would still find itself entangled in a passionate communal conflict. The Palestine wedge would thus remain in place -- smaller and less troubling, perhaps, but a wedge nonetheless.

Assuming that Professor Doran still believes what he wrote in 2003, his elevation to the National Security Council strongly suggests that the United States won't be selling out Israel to appease al Qaeda any time soon.

Bookmark the link and read the whole thing at your next opportunity.

Regular TigerHawk readers are also familiar with Professor Doran's work on al Qaeda. At the end of March I covered his public lecture on al Qaeda's "grand strategy" at Princeton and wrote about it here. It turned into my most widely-read post.

Michael Scott Doran is an excellent choice for the National Security Council, and another example of the high-powered talent that the Bush administration is bringing into its campaign to modernize the politics of the Arab world.

UPDATE: According to the Washington Post, Elliot Abrams was not head of the Israel/Palestine desk at NSC (as reported by The Daily Princetonian), but "special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and North African affairs."


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