Detective Team

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Some men are just born with the sky in their souls poster

Peter Rodman, of the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, wonders whether the Arabists’ best days actually lie ahead. “Since we will no longer have to look at the Middle East in East-West terms, it might be more appropriate, as Arabists have always urged, to treat the region on its own terms. But Arabists may blow their opportunity if they take a sentimental view of the fundamentalist phenomenon, which is the new strategic danger.” In a new climate, in which various forces impel Arab leaders to focus inward on their own societies rather than on Israel, the interstices that Arabists operate within should be wider and remain open for longer periods.

The importance of exploiting those interstices–pushing matters like food aid, cultural relations, and hostage negotiations forward before an opening disappears, and then going back and starting over again–cannot be overstated, for it is in this way, rather than on the level of grand policy, that Arabists do their most effective work. Norman Anderson, the former ambassador to Sudan, observes, “Foreign affairs has become so complicated and multilateral–with issues like drugs, the environment, and famine, as well as trade and military–that Washington can’t know exactly how its policies are to be carried out in each individual country in every specific case. That is the job of the embassies. And it’s hard to gather information on a country and do all this without knowledge of the language.” He adds that just as he was the only Arabic-speaking U.S. Diplomat in Sudan when a coup occurred, April Glaspie was the only Arabic-speaking U.S. Diplomat in Iraq on the eve of the invasion of Kuwait. (McCreary had finished his tour of duty there.) Although around two dozen U.S. Embassies and consulates have multiple job slots requiring a knowledge of Arabic, Anderson notes that “in the same year in which we dispatched five hundred thousand troops to the Arab world, the Foreign Service field school in Tunis could graduate only half a dozen Arabic-speakers.” His implication is clear: if we had produced more of the latter over enough years, we might not have needed the former.