How The Middle East Got That Way: Fromkin Used History to Explain Politics

If you haven’t read A Peace to End All Peace, add it to your summer reading list immediately. David Fromkin, a professor of International Relations at Boston University is a prolific author and scholar whose book provides a historical look at the creation of the modern Middle East–with an eye toward geography, conflict, and the decisions taken post-WWI the shaped the regions storied history.

In a Foreign Affairs review of the book, John C. Campbell writes that “Fromkin’s history is made by men rather than impersonal forces.”


Fromkin wrote about other seminal issues in 20th century international relations, such as the origins of the Great War, post-war relations and reconstruction, and the fate of key theoretical constructs such as idealism and realism, as embodied in institutions and programs:

In 1995, he wrote “In the Time of the Americans: F.D.R., Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur — the Generation That Changed America’s Role in the World,” in which he argued that after World War II Americans were given a rare second chance to correct the shortcomings of Woodrow Wilson’s one-world idealism.

As Richard Reeves wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “The United Nations is Wilsonian; NATO represents the kind of big-power peace enforcement envisioned by T.R.”Among Professor Fromkin’s other books were “Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?” (2004), which the journalist Avedis Hadjian, writing for, called “a fast-paced, gripping guide through the complex set of reasons and emotions that led to the 20th century’s seminal conflict”; and “The King and the Cowboy: Theodore Roosevelt and Edward the Seventh, Secret Partners” (2008).


What the ‘dissent channel’ cable at State Means

Dozens of diplomats and mid-level officials argue for a U.S. intervention in Syria. You can read the document here. According to Joseph Cassidy, vividly explains how this “means the system is working” in the “pillow fight” that often is foreign policymaking.

The use of the dissent channel, managed by the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff has been occasionally documented, as seen in the book, The Blood Telegram by Gary Bass. In the book reveals the “profoundly disturbing account” of killing–caused by President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger–with an estimate of 200,000-500,000 dead in the country we now call Bangladesh. (Not everyone sees the book as an indictment, however; Peter R. Kann sees the benefits of a foreign policy based on “unwavering loyalty to allies and an aversion to interference in another nation’s internal affairs” in his own review (“dissent”?).

The current dissent at the State Department is different for several reasons. According to Chas Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as reported by Vijay Prasad, this could be a political move to support Secretary Clinton:

What is most astounding about the cable is that it mistakes objective shifts in geopolitical relations for subjective errors. This is an elementary error for observers of international relations. The cable blames Obama for not striking Syria earlier and asks that he do so now. But Obama did not strike Syria in 2013 because he recognized, correctly, that the Russians, Chinese and most of the major countries of the Global South (including India) deeply opposed regime change. It was to finally stop any consideration of regime change that the Russians directly intervened in 2015. The deployment of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles would put any U.S. bombing raid into direct confrontation with the Russians. This is a very dangerous situation. Older habits of U.S. uni-polarity, developed from Gulf War 1 in 1990, no longer apply to an increasingly multi-polar world. It is not Obama’s timidity that led to the failure of aerial bombardment in Syria, as the diplomats contend, but it has been the rising confidence of certain world powers to confront U.S. preponderance. That this is not evident to the diplomats suggests they have a poor understanding of the world.

Source: Brain-Dead Diplomats: Why Did 51 American State Dept. Officials ‘Dissent’ Against Obama and Call for Bombing Syria? | Alternet

The person behind the famous “blood telegram, the “dissenting diplomat”, Archer K. Blood,  turned out provide factually accurate and morally upstanding counsel. As the chief political officer in what was then known as East Pakistan he paid a professional price–and this begs the question whether his approach was the most effective. (Ellen Barry explores this question in her fascinating piece in the NYT, Memo from Bangladesh.)

New Film Explores Richard Holbrooke’s Undiplomatic Views of Obama

I am very excited about this film. That is all.

“That really is the way the White House thinks,” Mr. Holbrooke said in an Aug. 12, 2010, entry in the diary, the existence of which has not been previously reported. “They don’t have a deep understanding of the issues themselves, but increasingly, they’re deluding themselves into thinking they do.”

Mr. Holbrooke, a diplomatic troubleshooter who worked for every president since the 1960s, was widely known to be in conflict with the Obama administration. But the audio notes that he dictated on a near daily basis from August 2010 until his death at age 69 from a torn aorta in December of that year provide an usually candid, if one-sided, record of the internecine battles that troubled the administration over the direction of the war in Afghanistan.

via Richard C. Holbrooke’s Diary of Disagreement With Obama Administration –

The Diplomatic Situation vis-a-vis Israel

According to Nathan Thrall, three types of officials can take the lead on U.S. policy with Israel: “skeptics,” “reproachers,” and “embracers”. His piece does a great job of assessing the current situation in the Middle East Peace Process–or what still exists of it.

The third type appears to have the upper hand:

Embracers are popular with presidents because they tell them precisely what they want to hear: that you can achieve your goals by closely allying the administration with Israel, improving relations with it in the process, making Palestinians happy since your cradling of Israel will lead to the peace they desire, and all while winning plaudits from Israel’s supporters in the U.S., thus paying no domestic political price. So far this dream has not come true, but the words have been too sweet to be resisted.

Obama, who fell under their spell quite early in his first term, adopted a strategy toward the peace process not unlike that of Goldilocks toward porridge. He entered office thinking the Bush Skeptics were too warm toward Israel, telling a group of Jewish leaders in 2009, “During those eight years [of Bush], there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that?” But Obama soon concluded that his Reproachers were too cold. So he handed responsibility to the Embracers, whom he believed would be just right.

via Faith-Based Diplomacy — Matter — Medium.

What to Call a Conflict between Israelis & Palestinians

A guidebook from the Austria-based International Press Institute helps journalists chose words carefully when reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–because words are weapons.  Social media has accelerated the trend, but this is nothing new.

Etgar Keret, an Israeli novelist, said he had been troubled by some of the terms favored by journalists, politicians and even friends in Tel Aviv. There is no Hebrew word for “assassination,” Mr. Keret said, so killings of Hamas operatives are described with a phrase meaning “focused obstruction.” Instead of “civilians,” he said, slain children and women are sometimes called “uninvolved.”

“There’s something about this ‘uninvolved,’ there’s something passive about it,” Mr. Keret said. “You admit that he is not somebody who is trying to destroy you, but you don’t give him any other identification. It was not a child who wanted to learn how to play the piano,” he said, adding, “it was just somebody who didn’t shoot at us.”

There is a long history here of such euphemisms. The journalist Amos Elon called it “word laundry,” and David Grossman explored the phenomenon in “The Yellow Wind,” his 1987 study of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. “A society in crisis forges for itself a new vocabulary,” he wrote, using “words that no longer describe reality, but attempt, instead, to conceal it.”

via In Gaza, Epithets Are Fired and Euphemisms Give Shelter –

More on this “War of the Words” from On the Media.