Rashid Khalidi on the Middle East: A Conversation



Q: Perhaps you can give us a sketch of your background and intellectual development?


Rashid Khalidi [RK]: Well, the easiest way to do that is to talk about my academic career. I started out as an undergraduate here in the States. I did my doctoral work in England at Oxford, went off to Beirut where I was doing much of my dissertation research, which was on British policy in the Middle East before World War I. My mother had already moved back to Beirut after my father died, so it was my home starting in the 1960s even when I was still in school here.  I lived in Beirut pretty much without interruption from then until 1983. I taught at the University of Beirut.  I then went to the Institute for Palestine Studies at the University of Chicago.  When we left in 1983, I thought I was just coming here for a year to write a book. And I did write the book in a year, but we never went back as a family — so all of my kids were born in Beirut, but we left with a few suitcases. And most of that stuff we never saw again.  Because we couldn’t go back, the war was worse.  It had been pretty bad before, but it got worse and worse. So I finally ended up with a job at Columbia for a couple years, and from there, to Chicago for sixteen years.  And then, I was offered Chair in Arab Studies here at Columbia and I came back.


Q: You were also involved politically as well?


RK: Well, yes. I was deeply involved in politics in Beirut. I served as an advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the negotiations for a couple years, from 91-93. I’m the Editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, which of course is a scholarly journal, but the word ‘Palestine’ involves so much contestation . . . .


Q: Maybe we should start with the elephant in the room.  Columbia University has been in the news recently with respect to charges of anti-semitism on campus and its administration has issued a report on its Middle East Institute…


RK: the report actually involved some faculty in the Department of Middle East Studies, which is separate from the Middle East Institute, which was never touched by any controversy or dealt with in the report.


Q: I see. So how do you look back on the "affiar"? Give our readers a sense of what was going on?


RK: Well, there wasn’t much of a controversy at Columbia. There was a controversy in the political sphere, and in the sphere of New York discourse and the press about Columbia. Were there deep differences of opinion among the faculty? No. Was there any real serious student involvement in this? No, if you leave aside a very limited number of individuals…


Q: And by this you mean…’the affair’?


RK: I’m telling you about the huge controversy that arose last year over a number of faculty members, mainly in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department (MEALAC), but which also had been expanded to include me and three other people. This so-called investigation, the report that was issued in March, dealt with three faculty members in MEALAC. It didn’t deal with me, or the Middle East Institute; even though in the press and the media, in their interpretation and reporting about it, it involved everybody involved in the Middle East at Columbia. You had headlines in gutter rags, of which unfortunately we have three in New York City, such as “Columbia is like the Gaza Strip.”


There was nothing going on at Columbia per se. There was an affair, largely I have to say, instigated from outside. There were some students who were involved, there’s no question that a number of students felt themselves aggrieved.  A number of students lent themselves to a campaign that was run by extra-campus organizations in the main, and that in turn fitted into a larger campaign that has been ongoing for quite awhile. It’s a campaign both against Middle East studies, in a sense that there’s an argument that—as a whole, the whole field, which deals with the Middle East and the US—is biased.  It is also a campaign in another respect, against any kind of on-campus activism in support of Palestine or which is critical of Israel. The disinvestment campaign a few years ago here and elsewhere provoked quite a firestorm of organizing. What you saw in America very much resembled the balance of forces as between the Palestinians and the Israelis themselves.  Whatever the Palestinians do, however effective, ineffective, right, wrong brings on an overwhelming, massive, powerful response from a regional superpower.


That’s what happened here on campus.  So some student groups and a few professors on this and on a few other campuses organized a few events over the first couple of years of the Intifada 2001-2002 and then, even more, from 2002-2003.  And the response to this was massive retaliation: the Hillel’s of the campuses of the whole US were mobilized, the ADL was mobilized, as well as the Campus Watch website, the group The David Project, and the Campus Coalition on Israel. None of these are Columbia organizations or organizations specific to Harvard or this or that university. All the groups who are interested in pro-Israel advocacy all over the country coordinated the response to what was seen as a dangerous increase in pro-Palestinian activism. So you had a huge, well-funded, nationwide, hysterical response, to pretty isolated and relatively under-funded and poorly organized efforts to publicize what was going on at the beginning of the Intifada.  


Q: I find it ironic that you should have been at the center of this maelstrom. I think that what we’re really talking about is the manipulation of anti-Semitism. One of our editors mentioned that he was with you at a conference, which had mostly an Arab audience, and there was a gentleman at the end of your plenary who came up with a conspiratorial argument about Zionism and you said straight up without any pandering: “anti-Semitism has no place in the Palestinian movement.”


RK: That’s not exactly what I said; I criticized this person for bringing up all these anti-Semitic themes.


Q: Was there a progressive press that came to your defense?


RK: No, no. It was not the finest hour of the press. Strangely enough, the only newspaper that did a fair to middling job of covering it was The Forward, of all things.


Q: Interesting…


RK: I’ve forgotten, mercifully, some of the details of this. It consumed much of our lives last year.  There was another paper in Northern NJ, a local Jewish paper that did a reasonable job.


Q: Probably the Jewish Standard...


RK: It might have been, I don’t remember. And there were a few other pieces like New York Magazine, an odd piece here and there. Generally speaking, the press did not distinguish itself.  For example, it took the self-definition of this group--a small group of students being manipulated by external forces--at face value. It took its definition of the problem. It took the definition they chose to give of what was going on at face value. They never looked into it carefully. There was never really a sense at Columbia that there was a massive anti-Israel bias or that there was rampant anti-Semitism.  Things that were alleged in the press had no basis in fact whatsoever.


Q: It’s interesting how Columbia has become a microcosm of the macrocosm…


RK: Well that’s why they chose it.  You have to look at the Jewish Telegraph, Haaretz or a few good papers like the Forward to follow the way these campaigns have developed over the past four years. This really started in 2001-2002. I was abroad in 2001-2002, and I started reading in Haaretz, actually, and occasionally in pieces carried by JTA about how the campaign was being mounted, and I followed it that way and one can follow it that way. It’s quite extraordinary that the press consciously or unconsciously accepted the way in which the people mounting this campaign framed it.


Q:  You have had much experience with Syria and Lebanon. Given the publicity that’s now come with the Rafi Hariri affair -- the former Lebanese prime minister assassinated on Feb. 14 2005 -- and the relatively new regime of Bashar al-Assad, what ideas do you have concerning the international reaction to events?


RK: [interrupting] I didn’t really answer your question on anti-Semitism.  When the kind of charges we heard in the last few years on anti-Semitism start to be raised and matters regarding Israel take center stage, I think that we should look very, very carefully at what’s really going on. When people who are unhappy about certain views on Israel and term it anti-Semitism, well, its like they’re invoking the nuclear option. Why are they doing it? What nerve has been touched? What is really at stake? Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Half of the people making criticisms are Jewish. Maybe the thousand of my friends who are Jews are really self-hating Jews. Maybe those of us who are Arabs and happen to be Semites are also…I don’t really think that’s what’s at issue. But I am being facetious. I think we should look very carefully at what is at stake when the Alan Dershowitz’s of this world and others are brandishing these kinds of charges.  It was very intensely used in the campaign last year,  "Columbia is anti-Semitic???" Please!!!


Q: Do you see any long-lasting effects of this campaign on the atmosphere at Columbia or the principles involved?


RK: There will probably be some effects at Columbia. This is a demonstration case.  There was a piece in which the campaign was assessed in the JTA.  It said that, “as we move on and continue doing what we’re doing in this campaign in defense of Israel we have to recognize we are not going to have as favorable situation as we did in Columbia.” It was probably chosen because it was a city with a certain kind of makeup. It’s a city with a number of newspapers. Several of which can be counted upon to compete with one another in the race to the bottom: the Sun, the Daily News, the Post. You can’t out pander these guys and they’re capable of anything, virtually, in their competition with one another. You couldn’t reproduce that in Israel. There’s infinitely more willingness to resist that kind of thing in the Israeli press than there is in the New York City press. 


Q: That’s extraordinarily ironic, isn’t it?


RK: Of course it’s ironic.  There’s much more contestation in the Israeli public sphere. You can’t talk about certain things in this country that are constantly invoked in the Israeli discourse among Israelis. 


Q: How would you explain it?


RK: How would I explain it? First of all, with this issue, the people who own the issue — the people who are concerned about the issue — are driven by a very strong feeling and an almost total absence of real knowledge. They don’t really know about much. The Israelis feel strongly about these issues.  The Israelis have a great deal of knowledge…they might now care about these things, but you can’t tell them certain things about the Arabs, about the Palestinians, about Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. So there’s a certain level of unreality in discourse here that is simply a function of intense feeling combined with an absence of knowledge among people for whom this is an extremely important issue.


Q: They’re removed from the reality…


RK: Precisely, they’re removed from the reality. They live in Long Island, they live in Miami, they live in L.A. They don’t live in [?] Their kids don’t go into the Army; their kids don’t serve in the occupation.  They themselves don’t have to spend x number of days a year, every year until they’re whatever age in the reserves…They have deep emotional involvement but minimal, if any, knowledge. So you can tell them almost anything and they do tell them almost anything! They have some kid going on talking about how the Bedouin are wonderfully treated in Israel. He’s a Bedouin.  I have a student researching this and she said: “Even the pro-Israel students listening to him couldn’t believe this stuff.” So maybe you can’t tell them anything, but you can try and tell them anything and quite often you get away with it.  You just can’t do that in Israel.  Also, in Israel there is vigorous dissent. I hate to say this but there is not vigorous dissent on this issue in the US. 


Q: How do you assess the different Arab American and Muslim American relations here? 


RK: The answer is partly sociological. This is a community that’s got one foot in the old-country and one foot here.  You go to a community event and you will see, first of all, a lot of people who don’t attend are the ones who are not even involved in the community, they’re still in the family business, they speak Arabic at home. This is a community that is not assimilated, not integrated; this is a community that is still largely in the ghetto.  You can go to Paterson, NJ, you can go to southwest side of Chicago or you can go to Dearborn and you will find people who show a resemblance with the Jews on the Lower East Side in (say) 1904- only language spoken: Yiddish. Everybody for 500 yards in every direction is coming from the same place, say, Lithuania. That’s true in Dearborn. You’ll go for miles and all the signs are in Arabic. These are people who are still not integrated and assimilated…they don’t know this country in many respects.  To talk about Arab-American and Muslim-American organizations in a community like this is to talk about a half-digested, half-Americanized community.  There are people like those on my mother’s side of the family right after or before WWI who are 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation but they’re a minority. Most of them, by the way, are Lebanese. Most Muslim-American or Arab-American community came here in the last couple of decades. They come from a variety of countries, and in some cases, they speak entirely different languages. So you have Pakistani Americans, African-American Muslims, you have Arab-American Muslims from 20 different Arab countries, Bosnian Muslims and so on and so forth…


Q: …It’s an amazing thing that in America the idea of being Muslim is simply confined to this tiny area in the Middle East…


RK: Most Muslims in the US are not Arab-Americans.  Most Muslims in the US, like most Muslims in the world, come from South Asia. The center of gravity in the Muslim world is a couple of hundred million Muslims in India, several hundred million Muslims in Bangladesh, several hundred million Muslims in Pakistan, several hundred million Muslims in middle Asia and Malaysia in Central Asia. The central gravity of the Muslim world — over a billion of them — is far to the east of the Middle East. The Turks, the Arabs, the Persians…the Iranians are less than 400 million people. The other guys are a billion.


Q: Your predecessor, Edward Said, spoke of a “construct” and what Islam means in the US.  It may have a lot to do with the weakness or failures of American policy.  Let me ask you something else that always comes up when speaking of the Arab world.  There are certain lberal and republican traditions in the Arab world that go back to the 19th century... What is preventing these political traditions from, to take a phrase from Marx, “gripping the masses”? 


RK: Let me start by answering the end of your question… They do “grip the masses.”  The republican, democratic and parliamentary ideas, ideas of limitation on the absolute power of the state are very popular with the people.  One reason, perhaps, is that they represent opposition to the state.  The state over the past few decades has destroyed all secular opposition.  A lot of the opposition to the absolute power of the state moved into the mosque. Some of it, then, went off in other directions, some of it very bad. The point is that there is a very powerful thirst for democracy and for lessening the absolute control of the state in politics and for pluralism.  Pluralism in most of the Arab world...the Middle East generally.  This is not a problem, by the way, that affects the Muslim in the same way as the Arab world. Most Muslims do live in democratic countries, whether in Indonesia, Bangladesh, India or Malaysia.  Those are countries with successful democratic transitions over many years.  Most Muslims live in democratic countries.  The exception is the US client state Pakistan and American client states being constructed in Central Asia.

In the Arab world you do have a problem.  As I argue in my book Resurrecting Empire… there are multiple reasons (for the democratic deficit) and some of them are indigenous.  The Middle East is where the state began, where cities began, where complex organizations of society began, centralization of power and bureaucracy began.  Go to Luxor. It’s not just a small town with a little temple, but a temple-complex spanning acres and acres, several thousand years, several millennia which represents the absolute concentration of power in the state. Luxor is five- to six-thousand years old. Strong, centralized, absolute, powerful states are a tradition in this region.  You can overemphasize this to the nth degree. Others did by speaking about "hydraulic societies" and "oriental absolutism"…I don’t want to go there.  But I will simply say to talk about this as an entirely new problem or as outsiders causing trouble is superficial and glib and false.


Q: It’s interesting the way you phrase this because I know that you were always interested by Soviet foreign policy in the ‘Third War’.  You said that the secular opposition in many of these states was crushed, so the resistance moved to the mosque. Do you see a parallel there with what happened in the Soviet Union? The crushing of the Church in Poland… Church in Czechoslovakia… Eastern Europe?


RK: Possibly. The complicating factor is that the struggle between strong states and their opposition didn’t play out in a vacuum; they played out in the context of the Cold War:  a situation in which many of these states aligned themselves with the West and others aligned themselves with the Soviet Union.  In the case of the states that aligned themselves with the West and in the case the states that aligned themselves with the Soviet Union much of the opposition did move to the mosques.  But in the case of the states aligned with the Soviet Union, American foreign policy begins to play a role.  The US and its conservative Arab regime allies, like the Shah, in some cases fostered Islam as a tool against the regimes that were aligned with the Soviet Union.  Nasserism, Baath governments and other states like those, were all aligned with the Soviet Union — Algeria and the Sudan, for a while. In many of these cases, we see groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups that are the breeding ground for many of the Islamist ideologies we have today.  Hezbollah and Hamas both grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood. These are favored darlings of the Western intelligence services that are fighting Soviet influence and the regimes aligned with the Soviet Union.  So to some extent this process this not allowed to develop indigenously, it becomes implicated with the Cold War.


Q: In a certain way the Muslim Brotherhood actually was employed or connected with the US?


RK: Sure. We saw this most strikingly in Afghanistan. But this wasn’t something that started in Afghanistan. [Imitating headline news] “1978-79 Soviet Union intervenes, one regime is overthrown, Red Army comes in.” Somebody in Washington decides, [Zbigniew] Brzezinski or whatever, “Oh we got to find some tool against these guys, where are we going to go, let’s invent something new.” That’s not what happened. This is something that goes back to the 50s when the Muslim Brotherhood was forced to leave places like Egypt and Syria. Where do they take refuge? Munich. Who picks them up? The Munich Station of the CIA.  That’s not to say they’re pawns in the hands of the Americans; they probably thought the Americans were pawns in their hands.  That’s not the point. 


Q: I guess the question, for most of our readers, is a sense that this organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, just like “political Islam,” is really a direct reaction to Western imperialism.


RK: It is, in its origins. It’s a reaction to the British in Egypt — as time goes on, and as they fallout with the state. In the case of Egypt, a very powerful Nasserist state is trying to orient itself toward the US. The Muslim Brotherhood had its falling out with Egypt in the mid-50s with the attempt to assassinate Nasser. Its activists got arrested, tortured and went into exile…It is when this marriage of convenience takes place.  The Muslim Brotherhood starts off as one of these very militant, anti-British, anti-imperialist groups.  It maintains some aspects of that in terms of combating Western culture influence.  Ultimately, its a complex and contradictory story.  …One of the things I argue in the book, just to finish this, is that attempts to establish democratic, parliamentary and representative regimes all over the Middle East from the mid to late nineteenth-century right through to the mid-60s and 70s, are very often undermined by the Western powers, the liberal and democratic Western powers:  France, Britain and, later, the US.  Whether we are talking about how the British undermined parliamentary governance of Egypt in the 1920s or the US and British in bringing down an elected government in Iran in 1953. 


Q: What do you see… what are the designs of the US in the Middle East… what is its general policy . . . what does it want . . . sometimes it seems as if there were no policy at all….


RK: There are some things that are more or less enduring and some things that change.  I think that you’re likely to see a great deal of flux in the next couple of years because of the fiasco in Iraq. But among the things that don’t change, there are things that have to do with strategic position.  No power with the kind of hegemonic position the US has had since WWII can afford.  Its location — for these purposes I connect it at least in central Asia — its location is such that anyone who needs to move from east to west has to have access to the Middle East.  And access often turns into domination. Whether we’re talking about Napoleon or the Russian Empire trying to do this or the British largely achieving this or whether we’re talking about the post-1945 situation in which the US has absolutely had this, and was challenged by the Soviets. This is something that no would-be great power can ignore.  And a hegemonic power will try to establish control. It has always; you can go back to Alexander the Great. You can go back as far as you want…  


Q: Certainly a complicating factor now is obviously Israel, the other elephant…


RK: Let me finish the other thing.  Their other thing is oil.  Even without oil, this region in the 1940s when they realized in WWI ‘my god we don’t really have all the oil we might need’ and the Nazis could barely run their war effort. From that point on the Middle East became absolutely vital.  And those are enduring interests. 


Q: Do you think part of the general strategy is to maintain a situation in which all Arab states remain weaker or more dysfunctional than Israel?


RK: Somewhere in the 50s and 60s the US turned toward a policy of weakening Arab nationalism, preventing, if possible, certain kinds of coalitions.  I think this had, at the outset at least, as much to do, probably more to do, with American interests than with Israel per se.  The US did not pay a whole lot of attention to Israel before the 50s and 60s. Nor was it always an enormous factor in American strategic calculations.  I think these processes are antecedent to the moment when Israel became as important as it became. This whole process is, of course, reinforced by the increasing closeness of interests between the US and Israel.  People now look at Israeli interests as something that have to be taken into account.  Some people think Israeli interests are completely and absolutely coincident with US interests.  I think there are others in Washington that do not see it this way. If you think of the Franklin spy case, for example, or the whole issue of arms to China--this would indicate that not everybody sees that.  In any case, certainly there has always been an Israeli objective to keep the region as weak as possible.  It didn’t have the means to achieve that, especially in the early years.  It has increasingly had the means and through influence on the US. It can try and add the weight of the US to its own weight.


Q: You have been one of the most articulate critics of the invasion of Iraq.  First, how does the Iraqi invasion fit into what you have just said and, secondly, do you think there has been any serious progress made? 


RK: Progress by whom, towards what? 


Q: Progress towards fostering democracy… how do you view the constitution?


RK: The war was mainly in my view, launched in order to establish a benchmark for the way the world is supposed to look—unfettered American hegemony: we can do what we want, where we want without anybody having any say-so, and without any hindrance from international law or international organizations or our allies. We don’t have allies; we have coalitions of the willing, which means to say, whoever ends up behind whatever it is we decide to do for our reasons, and we will let you know what we decide and what you will do if you want to join us.  That’s fundamentally different from anything the US has done since the Cold War.  For the first Gulf War, Secretary of State James Baker spent months building up a coalition for war. It’s like an elephant crushing a cockroach.  Yet he spent months ensuring this war had Massive Arab support, massive UN support, massive European support, massive Asian support and massive financial support. That’s the way the US operated; that’s the way it’s always operated throughout the Cold War.  Not just multilateral, but attempting to do what it does in the framework of the United Nations. I’m not saying this makes it a good policy or bad policy; that’s just the way the policy was, always, or almost always.  There’s a departure here.  It’s not just unilateralism; it’s not just contempt for international law; it’s not just an attempt to destroy the fabric of international law.  It’s an attempt to create domestically an unfettered imperial presence with no constitutional constraints on an America that does not have to pay attention to the whole fabric of constraints or limitations on state action erected largely by the US largely as a consequence of the Holocaust and WWII.  Or, going back to WWI and before, whether the Hague Conventions or the Geneva Conventions or the body of law that came out of Nuremberg, these neoconservatives want to say “none of this applies to us” -- and I think, mainly in the first instance, that’s really what Iraq was about.

Iraq was, secondly, about the US attempting to establish a permanent position in this region for developing its strategy. They intended to build what they call “enduring bases” in Iraq. It doesn’t mean they intended to occupy downtown Baghdad. 100 kilometers off in the desert there would be an airbase for their use that would be handed over on the basis of agreement signed by a puppet Iraqi government that would do what the US wanted. Thirdly, the US wanted not just to open up Iraqi oil production, but also open up the Iraqi economy. Iraq  was to have been a test case for privatization, for a neoliberal economics.  The fact that it has the second largest reserves of oil in the world made it extraordinary attractive to an administration full of people who have made a living, or at least part of their careers, in the oil business; so they understand this stuff. Whatever limitations they may have in other spheres, the understand oil and its importance.

Finally, I think they hoped they would be able to affect all kinds of regional balances. Here’s where Israel comes in, to the extent that it comes in and I don’t think it really comes in as much as the conspiracy theorists would have it.  Possibly for some of the neocons it was more important, but the neocons are window-dressing for this administration. They’re just the court heralds who go and trumpet the line of the day.  The Cheney’s and the Rumsfeld’s are good old fashioned muscular nationalists, believers in an imperial presidency.  People who since the time of Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon have been fighting to prevent public opinion, the press, the Congress or anybody else from interfering with the absolute freedom of the president to do exactly as he pleases in foreign policy and strategic affairs and intelligence.  To them, the darkest days were the post-Vietnam period when you had the Church Committee and all of these limitations on the power of the president to wage war; you had to refashion the army with the objective of making it harder to engage in certain kinds of adventures abroad.  These people have been fighting their whole lives to reverse this.  These people aren’t neoconservatives; these people were conservatives before the neoconservatives were out of their Trostkyist diapers!  To talk about the neoconservatives as the people who run this administration is to mistake the hand puppet for the hand.  These are the guys who did the talking for them and they did a very good job, it was very important what they did…


Q:  Who’s the “them”?


RK: The people who are really the core elements of this administration.  The Cheney’s, the Rumsfeld’s, George W. Bush himself, Condi Rice, and while he was a member of this group, Colin Powell. These are people who have been around for a very, very long time.  They’re all aligned with the neoconservatives — they’re most faithful servants in the case of Rumsfeld and Cheney and the people around them are quite frequently neoconservative.  They come from a much older strand of American political ideology. 


Q: How successful has the iraqi War been in the terms of those who designed it?


RK: This has been close to an unmitigated catastrophe, even in the judgment of people who are sympathetic to them. They won’t say this but I think pretty much everyone recognizes this. The US has not “shocked and awed” anybody except with its own encumbrance and inability to achieve its own objectives.  They will not have bases in Iraq.  In ten, twelve, or fifteen years, you will look back and ask: “what could have possibly possessed them to think you could use those,” in a country that has fought foreign bases for most of the twentieth century. I mean, “What were they thinking”? The US will not have a privileged position vis-à-vis Iraqi oil, and I don’t think they will have a client regime at the end of the war.  All of those objectives, if those were their objectives, have failed.  Now they achieved a bunch of other things that they didn’t intend to achieve.  They may have dismantled Iraq. They may have created a sectarian civil war in a country that actually wasn’t necessarily moving in that direction. Even in a post-Saddam era, it might not have moved in that direction if there hadn’t been a decision by the US to dismantle the state and the army and the security force.  And they may have unleashed regional dynamics that we’re all going to live to rue; in the form of external intervention by local powers to serve to protect, what they perceive, as their vital interests in a weakened Iraq.  We’re already seeing that with Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey and I think we will see it with those and others.


Q: Given the influence of Iran and the Supreme Islamic Council, the largest Shiite party in Iraq, and its influence in the south and Syria’s connection as well.  Do you see any possibility for military aggression towards Iran and/or Syria?


RK: In talks I’ve been giving recently I have been talking mainly about Iran because there is clearly planning going on involving bases in central Asia, western Afghanistan involving mounting attacks by the mujahideen: a former pawn of Saddam, now a pawn of our government; a group on the terrorist list which is being sent into Iran to carry out attacks.  In terms of other things, which made me and others, those who are more expert on this issue than I am, believe that by next summer there was planning at least for some kind of campaign against Iran; probably not an invasion, probably not an occupation because it would be extremely foolish to do that and the forces don’t exist.  But some kind of systematic air strikes on Iranian nuclear and other facilities.  I would say Syria increasingly looks likely to be target one way or another in the last couple of weeks. 


Q: Because of the Hariri affair?


RK: No. Because just as in Vietnam these people are unwillingly to accept that the problem is a problem that they have in the country that they’re in, so they’re blaming it on their favorite country; i.e. “It’s Laos and Cambodia; the North Vietnamese are sneaking across the border so we have to invade and attack Laos and Cambodia.” If we do it, we’re going to attack Syria for the same reason. There is undoubtedly stuff coming across the border just as there was undoubtedly stuff coming across the Cambodian borders with Vietnam.  They seem to be quite moved by this; we’ll see… My expectation was that they would try to bring the regime down but there wouldn’t actually be attacks. The talk now is that there is strong party agitation for actual strikes against Syria.


Q: Last question I have for you, perhaps the most depressing one: do you think a Democratic Administration will qualitatively change American policy towards the Middle East? 


RK: I think there is going to be a pendulum swing, irrespective of what happens in 2006 and 2008.  I think that at this moment in time, the Democratic Party is, if possible, more spineless and more stupidly pro-war than a large chunk of the Republican Party.  The only real opposition in politics you find in organized American politics to some issues around Iraq is in the Republican Party in the Senate…


Q: Well also the Black Caucus…


RK: …The Black Caucus and the Republicans in the Senate are about the only people who have had the backbone to stand up to the President.  The defeat that [Sen. John] McCain inflicted on Bush over torture in that 90-9 vote was the first time anybody stood up to him since 9-11 politically.  [2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John] Kerry rolled-over and played dead on Iraq in fact he did worse then play dead he dug his own grave. At this moment in time any Democratic challenger that I can see, who could come in and who would move the sticks, would change the paradigm. Hurricane Katrina was a moment for somebody to say “the whole approach you’ve been following, the privatization, the selling off of the government…” This is not just the old liberal philosophy versus something else. This is a moment for paradigmatic reflection. ‘The whole thing you’ve been doing is wrong’. Nobody said that, I didn’t hear one single radical comment. 


There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and tearing of garments and newsmen and newswomen who stood up to politicians, which was all very invigorating but nothing, nothing, nothing systematic was said in the political process.  And the same thing is true about Iraq. Nor the Republican dissidence with the President, even Hagel is criticizing the war, even those who have called for withdrawal.  Have said maybe we should think about the whole profile of the US in the world. Do we really need this military? Do really need to have bases in these countries and what ways are securities furthered by this? And what cases is a cause of insecurity. To what extent can the US be a world power without sticking its nose in the domestic politics of 110 countries and having bases in 112 and being all over 85 and so on and so forth.  To what extent is all of this being called into question? Not at all, I just don’t see anybody doing this, nor the Hagel’s or McCain’s nor the Hillary Clinton’s and others. I think there will be a pendulum swing away from the unilateralism of the Bush Administration.  There’s no question that the neocon moment is past and the kind of lunacy that was being championed is going out of fashion. The realists are going to take back foreign policy.  But the realists have also gotten us into some real messes in the past… It’s not like things will be all hunky-dory just because the extraordinary, extraordinary radical swing of the Bush Administration will be corrected by a slight compensation. I’m not that optimistic.