In his popular 1998 book, The Dream Palace of the Arabs, the late scholar Fouad Ajami offered a critique of 20th-century Arab nationalists and intellectuals for having built what Ajami saw as a fictional sense of their own accomplishments, which he claimed in turn had promoted a chauvinistic and conspiratorial worldview. “In an Arab political history littered with thwarted dreams, little honor would be extended to pragmatists who knew the limits of what could and could not be done,” he wrote. “The political culture of nationalism reserved its approval for those who led ruinous campaigns in pursuit of impossible quests.”
Ajami would, of course, go on to become a favored court intellectual and a public advocate for the U.S. George W. Bush administration’s own ruinous campaigns in pursuit of impossible quests.
The past week saw the destruction of yet another dream palace: the Biden administration’s effort to reinforce a U.S.-dominated Middle East security architecture through closer defense pacts with the region’s various repressive governments. The point man for this has been the White House’s top Middle East policy hand, Brett McGurk, who has served in senior policy positions in every administration since George W. Bush’s, including as a legal advisor for the U.S occupation of Iraq.
Unlike Bush’s post-9/11 Middle East “freedom agenda,” which, despite its strategic flaws and disastrous and deadly consequences, at least had a genuine policy component of human rights and democracy promotion, President Joe Biden’s doctrine for the Middle East, as outlined by McGurk in a February speech, shows vanishingly little concern for how the people of the region are ruled. Its brief mention of a “values” component is so perfunctory as to be insulting.
In stark contrast to his campaign promises to prioritize human rights, as president, Biden has drawn the United States even closer to Middle East authoritarians. While at first holding the Trump administration-brokered Abraham Accords at arm’s length, the Biden administration soon embraced them in the misguided belief that stitching together arms deals with abusive governments and calling it “peace” was a good way to advance Americans’ security and prosperity. [Continue reading…]