Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, like nearly every US analyst of the Middle East, and as far as I can think of, every analyst presented by major US or European news organizations, has a view of the Middle East that is drastically distorted by loyalty to the idea that about five million Jewish people in Palestine must have a majority state.
Recently Friedman has argued that there have been two post-Nasser impulses among the Arab people: one embodied in Sadat's 1977 trip to Jerusalem, the other embodied in the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and what Friedman presents as an increase in Islamic fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia that year.
How so? Following the defeat of Egypt and other Arab armies by Israel in the 1967 war, Nasserism, a k a Arab nationalism, the abiding ideology of the day, was demolished. In its wake came two broad alternatives: The first, manifested by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in his 1977 trip to Israel, was a bid to cast the Arab world’s future with the West, economic liberalization, modernization and acceptance of Israel. The weakness of “Sadatism,” though, was that it was an elite ideology with no cultural roots. The Egyptian state made peace with Israel, but Arab societies never followed.Nothing gives supporters of Israel more pleasure than gloating over the 1967 war. No, that war did not demolish Arab nationalism. That war did represent the high point of Western-sponsored Israeli military dominance of its region. Israel certainly will never have another war that painless from its perspective again, against any opponent. My response to that gloating is that Egypt lost that war thoroughly, but still exists as Egypt. When Israel loses its first war thoroughly, it will still exist, and it may still be called Israel, but that will essentially mark the end of the Zionist project.
The second Arab-Muslim response emerged in 1979. To start, there was the takeover that year of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamist extremists who challenged the religious credentials of the Saudi ruling family. The Saudi rulers responded by forging a new bargain with their Islamists: Let us stay in power and we will give you a free hand in setting social norms, relations between the sexes and religious education inside Saudi Arabia — and abundant resources to spread Sunni Wahabi fundamentalism abroad.
Friedman's description of what he calls "Sadatism" uses a fairly common technique in Western analysis of the Middle East. "cast the Arab world’s future with the West, economic liberalization, modernization and acceptance of Israel". Two other things and then acceptance of Israel. Friedman presents acceptance of Israel as an afterthought. Actually is it the only thing on that list he cares about. Economic liberalization and modernization without acceptance of Israel are concepts that the West consistently opposes in the Middle East.
Even with a government that accepts Israel, Egypt does not have terms of trade with the United States or Europe nearly as beneficial as Israel does. (A post about this is to come.) An Egypt that develops an independent economic base that could support a standard sized military for the country of over 60 million people would be one election or coup away from being a more potent existential threat to Israel than Iran is.
The young reformers today “do not have a compelling story to tell,” remarked Lahcen Haddad, a political scientist at Rabat University in Morocco. “And they face a meta-narrative” — first developed by Nasser and later adopted by the Islamists — “that mobilizes millions and millions. That narrative says: ‘The Arabs and Muslims are victims of an imperialist-Zionist conspiracy aided by reactionary regimes in the Arab world. It has as its goal keeping the Arabs and Muslims backward in order to exploit their oil riches and prevent them from becoming as strong as they used to be in the Middle Ages — because that is dangerous for Israel and Western interests.’ ”Readers of this blog know well that it is fully accepted in the US and Israeli foreign policy establishments that Israel perceives a security interest in the neighboring countries not being strong enough that Israel (a country less than a tenth the size of some of its neighbors) cannot threaten them with catastrophic defeat.
Today that meta-narrative is embraced across the Arab-Muslim political spectrum, from the secular left to the Islamic right. Deconstructing that story, and rebuilding a post-1979 alternative story based on responsibility, modernization, Islamic reformation and cross-cultural dialogue, is this generation’s challenge. I think it can happen, but it will require the success of the democratizing self-government movements in Iran and Iraq. That would spawn a whole new story.
Friedman will not allow himself to admit that the narrative he describes is correct, but he does not pretend the narrative is held only by Islamists as is commonly argued by Western analysts. Everyone in the Middle East including the pro-US stooges in power in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, Jordan and Egypt accepts that narrative. Ariel Ilan Roth, speaking for the US Council on Foreign Relations accepts that narrative, as do, according to him, most Israelis:
Most Israelis believe the key to enduring peace in the Middle East is convincing Israel’s adversaries that ejecting Israel through force is an impossible task not worth pursuing. Essential to inducing that sense of despair is Israel’s ability to continuously trounce its enemies on the battlefield and suffer far fewer losses than it inflicts.And given that this narrative is correct, not only are the Arabs and Muslims victims, the 3000 Americans who died in the World Trade Center are victims of this US project to keep the Muslim world weak enough that it could not force Israel to relinquish the political majority status of about five million Jewish people in Palestine, as are the 4000 American combat dead in Iraq.
This is a reality that Friedman has come closer to facing in this piece than I've ever seen him come, but in the end, loyalty to the idea that there must be a Jewish state, as almost always happens in Western analyses of the Middle East, prevents him from making further logical connections.