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28 March 2011


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I was nodding along in agreement up until the last section.
“The gap between American rhetoric and American actions has widened to the point where it no longer is bridgeable.”
I think the US is bridging that gap not widening it. When the last administration suddenly went of on a short lived Democracy kick while cozying up to the elites in Egypt, KSA and Yemen was the moment attempting to straddle the rhetoric/action gap looked the most ridiculous. ‘Allowing’ the chips to fall where they may and then working to help nascent democracies, if asked, find their way should help the American public with its “idealistic notion of the U.S. as a principled country that acts in the cause of virtue, enlightenment and morality” and lead traditional friends to once again look to it for leadership. From the outside I think the US had abandoned its native idealism opting for the devils it knew rather than trusting in the principles it espoused.
For my part – welcome back.


The American public is deeply attached to the idealistic notion of the U.S. as a principled country that acts in the cause of virtue, enlightenment and morality.

You're kidding, right? These are the last adjectives I'd attach to my fellow citizens nowadays. We've become a nation of cynical, neo-social Darwinists whose ethos has been reduced to, "What's in it for me?" And Washington hasn't displayed "native idealism" in decades. We are about as enlightened in our foreign policy as Athens was before the Peloponnesian War.

I won't say more for fear of breaking into a full foaming-at-the-mouth rant. But if you want a barometer about how "idealistic" our Nation still is, watch what I fear will be a national "the silence is deafening" reaction to the Kill Squad in Afghanistan.

FB Ali

Dr Brenner,

I agree with most of your “givens”, but would qualify a few of them (:#s 1, 2 & 7).

The young people who are spearheading the movements against the old order, and the others joining in them, certainly don’t think of the US (at least so far) in those terms : American credibility, already low, has hit rock bottom.......We are widely distrusted; Washington’s words and those of President Obama in particular will be viewed with pronounced skepticism and will nowhere be taken at face value.

So far, the US has said all the right things, and is perceived, by and large, to have acted accordingly. Many of the missteps, hesitations, doublespeak and empty rhetoric that we see from our angle over here are not seen from over there, especially in the midst of the dizzying pace with which events are moving for them.

The problems you see could well arise later, as the reaction from the old establishments begins, and the inertia of the institutional structures resists change. It is in the implementation of the changes that these reform movements demand and expect that the US will find itself facing dilemmas, and where its choices may well disillusion those who now look up to it as a beacon and a support.

You do not say which of the countries that have undergone turbulence you would place in your three categories. I hope you put Egypt in Category B. I see much potential there for trouble as the old structures seek to retain their privileged positions. It would provide a critical test for US policy with regard to this New Wave in the MENA.

 Charles I

FB, Surely in a sense Egypt and Libya has cost
face with the autocrats while Bahrain and the recent settlement veto have cost credibility with the street.

William R. Cumming

AS Mao with the French Revolution--too soon to tell!

Agree in part and disagree in part.

I did listen to Obama's Speech last night and conclude MQ was just largely unlucky that his guess that US would not intervene at all was wrong. But something has changed in the EU and NATO not sure what but time will tell. Perhaps crusading not yet over with. Did not the German Knights lead the Crusades?


FB, Ali, I absolutely agree. I don't think this will widen the gap.

What I wondered while reading is, what is category three:

C) Popular action that has been successfully suppressed so far?

If so, I unfortunately know close to nothing about e.g. Saudi-Iranian-Bahrain relations from a historical perspective pre and post Shah regime to put this in context. I can only see what it is now.

Sunni-Shi’ite rivalry
A couple of nitwit questions. Is this really about religion? Has this to be seen in the context of the up-rise in the region or is there evidence for an Iranian influence? In Bahrain the ruling class not shown on the map link above is Sunni, while the majority is Shi'ite? So what motivates the protesters there, religion? Are they demanding rule by their religion, or do they demand more freedom, and religion is only brought into the context only by the fact that the Sunni elite undemocratically rules over a Shi'ite majority? So from their perspective this can be presented as a religious rivalry.


The problem with the concept of the War on Terrorism was it's openness, it's flexible applicability by whatever interests, from the very start, as can be perfectly seen in how MQ is using it now in his rhetoric.

Could this be the bridge between FB Ali and Michael Brenner's argument. The argument that MQ uses now can be twisted into an anti-American narrative for the not so educated masses to be led by special interests? Irony Alert: AS it was twisted for their own convenience by the Bush, jun. admin.

William R. Cumming

OKAY folks where do you want to play? Libya-6M folks some oil. Rest of Mahgreb? ME?

A cataclysmic world changing event has occurred in Japan with a rich democratic government under stress. They were headed to become part of the CHINESE condominium before in my opinion, now just will happen sooner.

I would be interested in any analysis of Chinese efforts in N.Africa, ME,and Sub-Saharan Africa and analysis of those efforts? I keep hearing the Chinese drop off construction battalions of 10-15,000 with no intention of their ever returning to China to help out in that area? And of course in parts of Western China the bulldozers continue to mow down the mosques. What gives here? We (the US) are the Great Satan as long as their is a protectorate of the US called Israel! Is that the key difference between US and them?

William R. Cumming

Oh! Did I mention that China is offering POLAND help with construction and financing of all Polish critical infrastructure starting with roads, trains, and airports?
Maybe the clear run of Germany all the way to the URALS is not a given. Again some estimates that up to 50,000 HAN Chinese cross into Russian territory each month. Demographics, demographics, demographics? Instead of location, location, location? When the oil runs dry in ME and Africa what will be Chinese interest then?

William R. Cumming

LeaNder! Even religious wars are never about religion but about power, who holds it and wields it.
That is why Thomas Jefferson feared the establishment of a state religion which he saw operate closeup in colonial Virginia. Stalin is reported to have facetiously asked "How many divisions has the POPE" and little did he know that the POPE had many.


Now here is some good news. Obama's craven surrender at the UN to the Israel Lobby is already bearing fruit. See http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/abbas-willing-to-give-up-u-s-aid-for-unity-with-hamas-1.352372.



Chou En Lai was purportedly the speaker (to Nixon and Kissinger), on the matter of the French revolution.

FB Ali


My remarks were strictly related to the young people who are spearheading the movements against the old order, and the others joining in them. They apply fully to the Egyptian reformers and the Libyan rebels, and to a lesser extent to their counterparts in Tunisia and Syria, and even in Yemen and Iran. For these young people, standing up to their repressive regimes and facing their wrath, the US seems an ally.

That view is not generally shared by ordinary people in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and especially not by the intelligentsia. They have been so put off by the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (both the justifications given for launching them, and their conduct) that they view these new interventions with a great deal of suspicion and scepticism. It is a tribute to Qaddafi’s remarkable ability to antagonize the entire world that the Arab states and some Muslim countries are going along, though rather gingerly, with the Libyan enterprise. They will resist too blatant an attempt at regime change by the coalition.


William, first I hope Dr. Brenner excuses my overhasty comment. I should have looked more closely.

yes, religious war are always about power and never about religion; as religion can be a perfect tool of control. Unfortunately.

Sorry I didn't answer your question about the Israeli school system, but strictly, my instinct tells me that if there was more cultural and economic exchange between Israel and it's neighbors the demand for learning Arab would rise exponentially. Given the mizrahim, I think you can learn Arab in the school system for Israeli Jews among other languages. Or am I to believe the descendent of the Oriential Jews have no interest in the language of their parents? I somehow doubt. Arab Israelis surely learn both Hebrew and Arab. Obviously everywhere English may well be the first language students choose, given the choice.

Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel (Mondoweiss contributor) was a pro-Palestinian activist as Israeli and only now that he lives in Italy learns Arab, so I guess the language used in these circles often is English.


These many thoughtful comments are gratifying. After all, the object of the good Colonel’s blog is to encourage intellectual exchange even as it allows us to broadcast our views.

Here is how my own thinking has evolved in response to those comments.
First, filling in the blanks of my initial taxonomy. In Category A, I believe that only Tunisia deserves that designation. Category B includes Egypt with prospective candidates Libya (post-Gadaffi) and perhaps Jordan later on. Category C is the most populated: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria and Jordan. Of course, outside the Arab world, Iran also belongs. In addition, let’s not forget Iraq where large demonstrations resulting in 30 or so killed by police gunfire. Iraq is instructive for what it tells us not only about the state of post-occupation Iraq but also the rising threshold of tolerance for corruption, incompetence, and disrespect for personal dignity by authoritarian leaders whether elected or not.

Second, how do we estimate the standing and image of the United States in the minds of Middle East populaces.

I can imagine four methods: survey data; anecdotal information; assessing the logic of circumstances; and empathy. The last two are obviously related. My severe judgment of the negative perceptions of the United States are based on a combination of these. Opinion surveys (the best are by Pew) before the uprisings already exposed the fact that substantial majorities held a negative view of the United States across the region. Attitudes toward the United States as a country were somewhat higher than views of American actions, although that difference has been narrowing. I do not know of current polls but under turbulent circumstances, I don’t think that they’re worth much.

As to anecdotal data, here is mine. Tunisia: extensive contact. Most people feel no debt to the United States since they received little support until very late in the day.. They simply were glad that Washington did not support their brother in arms in the war on terror. The Gulf: I correspond with a few people who know the region intimately, live there, and know the Arabic vernacular. They agree that we indeed have hit rock bottom among Shi’ites in Bahrain, democrats in Kuwait, democrats in Saudi Arabia, democrats in the Emirates and democrats in Oman – not to speak of Yemen where democrats feely utterly betrayed. I use the term ‘democrats’ rather loosely. In Iraq, Shi’ite opinion has hardened in its dislike and distrust of the United States – their self advertised liberator. The same for Shi’ites in Lebanon. Egypt: the United States in the abstract may still be associated with political liberties but the Obama administration is widely viewed as two-faced and speaking out of both sides of its mouth. The overwhelming impression seems to be that Washington has revealed itself to be just like any other self interested state that uses the language of enlightened values when convenient and when it serves American interests. (This surely is the conclusion of governments of any stripe).

Brigadier Ali judges President as having said all the right things. My view is somewhat different. He may have said them at certain times. But he did not say them at other times or consistently. In Egypt, he wanted Mubarak to stay in office during a long transition period. The second choice was Suleiman whether in tandem with Mubarak or on his own. People in Cairo with whom I’ve spoken bitterly resent this. In Yemen, he still has said not a bad word about Saleh while his officials spout many words about his value as an ally in the ‘war…..In Bahrain, after an initial condemnation of the use of violence and a general call for moderation, we deferred to the regime’s crackdown with Saudi participation. Who among us as persons putting their lives on the line in the cause of political decency would come away from all this will an image of the United States as inspiration and ally? Who as observers of what has happened, would reach any other judgment? Who would go into the streets expecting American support – otherthan in Iran?

On the ‘idealism’ – ‘realism’ gap. In terms of actual behavior, I agree that the United States has followed a realist course since the onset of the Cold War. Our idealist rhetoric and self-conception was reinvigorated by ‘victory’ in the Cold War and the spreading of democracy in Eastern Europe and elsewhere in the 1990s. The 9/11 decade has seen us on a retrograde path. Striking an anti-terrorist pose has been replaced by the anti-terrorist pose as the sure fire ticket to win American favors. Mr. Saleh played the game in both eras. The Bush administration’s loud trumpeting of its freedom agenda belied by our actions throughout the Greater Middle East did make the hollowness of that rhetoric evident. It almost extinguished our ‘beacon’ image, but the still smoldering embers were rekindled by the warm image and words of Barack Obama. Positive feelings and expectations from the United States have eroded since the early days of his flaming popularity. Now, his timid, vacillating and incongruous poses the past three months have branded him indelibly as a hypocrite.

Consequently, as with all unrequited feelings, the reaction has been all the more bitter because of those earlier raised expectations. That is why I conclude that little remains of America’s image abroad as a nation of exceptional virtue other than lingering resentment and disillusionment.

At home, I think that it’s another story. Although domestic opinion can respond to appeals based strictly on national interests, it still cleaves to the notion that the United States is always well intentions and behaves in a way that benefits others and the world generally. Sure, in casual conversation one hears remarks like “let’s just nuke the m…f….s.” But a foreign policy that predicates that sentiment could not carry the country with it.

We are of course open to manipulation of images, myths, and emotions of all kinds to generate backing for all manner of foolish behavior – e.g. Iraq. And Mr. Obama has been equally dishonest in not squaring with the American people – even if he lacks both opportunity and courage to do something as monumentally stupid as Iraq. Cowardice has its benefits.


"There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." - a paraphrase of what Victor Hugo wrote in 1852.

I don't know what will come out of the Middle East, I'm far more interested in the impact these Twitter enabled revolutions are having on the young in Western countries.

I think that Washington and European capitals ignore that message at their peril.

 Charles I

William R. have you watched The Chinese Are Coming?


William R. Cumming

Thanks FASTEDDIE! You are correct. And Charles I thanks for the link!

By the way I don't think China is the certain "enemy" that some do. Internal cohesion (over 60 languages and dialects) make for some interesting times ahead for the leadership. But the twin pillars of the PLA and Communist Party each trying to lock up resources is amazing to watch. Also the Chinese use of the USA higher ed system is amazing to watch.

Patrick Lang


"Arab Israelis surely learn both Hebrew and Arab." Have you ever been to Israel? No, the children of Oriental Jews do not study Arabic in primary or secondary school.


No, the German knights did not lead the crusades. French was the principal language of the first crusade and it was also the language of the crusader states. The Order of St. Mary of the Teutons (Teutonic Knights" was founded late as an expression of the desire of German monkish knights not to have t ofuction in French. pl

William R. Cumming

Thanks PL! Do historians agree on when France became France? Germany became Germany 1878?

And until WWI was not FRENCH the language of all diplomacy?


Pat, I tried to put this as carefully as possible. I assume that there is a limited subject choice. That's what I meant: I think you can learn Arab. At least there should be such an option. And obviously there is: Arabic studies to become compulsory in Israeli schools.

Until now, Israeli students had the option of learning Arabic to fulfill a requirement to study a second language in grades seven to ten. Other options were Russian, French, or Amharic.

Have you ever been to Israel?

Precisely why the question irritated me: Why does he ask me this?

Not really. Once for a very short visit. A friend taught photography in Jerusalem as a guest lecturer in a Jerusalem college and later in an Academy there. Maybe he still does, I have to ask him. I wanted to return only after learning Hebrew. Would it be hard to learn Arabic and Hebrew parallel?


Also the Chinese use of the USA higher ed system is amazing to watch.

That seemed to be the a core component of Treitschke's antisemitic articles, a history prof in late 19th century Germany, who triggered the antisemitism debate. Too many Jewish students in German high-school (Gymnasium) and universities compared to their percentage in the German population. At least that was the one thing I remember from reading about it years ago. Interestingly he gave up the success and money topic, after his Jewish critics pointed out to him there was a similar debate surrounding German's in Russia.

Can you give me one reason, why they shouldn't "use" the system? Would you like to return to representative quota?

Patrick Lang


In this you remind me of a neighbor who likes to lecture me on the care of dogs and foreign cultures. This person has never owned a dog and has not traveled. It makes a difference to have been to places for extended periods of time and been responsible for national understanding of these peoples. Yes, the Israeli public schools have offered Arabic as an option. Hardly anyone took that option. Why they would have taught Amharic is beyond my comprehension. Ethiopian Jews? I suppose so. A friend of mine took Arabic at his secondary school and the IDF was so impressed by this unusual thing that they offered him a full university scholarship to continue nd a commission in the IDF general staff inteligence when he finished. He retired a few years back as a brigadier having been military governor of the West Bank. He was a rare bird in the IDF. Take both languages at once? Good luck. This is not a mater of a German learning English. pl

Patrick Lang


IMO France became France in the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV. pl



Germany became Germany 1878
Why 1878 and not 1871? Typo?


thinking of it, you perhaps meant to write 1848? Adjacent key?

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