The Barney Fife of Middle Eastern “expertise” is at it again. With a couple of exceptions, I try to not write about Michael Totten, mostly because his ignorance makes my head hurt, and his childish worldview is depressing to me. Some things, however, cannot be ignored. Usually, Totten doesn’t allow himself to wander freely into undisguised racism — his “analysis” is generally of the patronizing paternalistic order, without being overtly bigoted. But this time he’s outdone himself.
In a discussion with Lee Smith, whose book was panned recently by Max Rodenbeck in The National, these two luminaries of all that is Arab and Muslim sit down and have a chat about “why they hate us.” The gist of their logic is summarized here by Totten:
On the subject of anti-Americanism, I think you nailed it, and it really isn’t that complicated. You wrote, “Anti-Americanism is the region’s lingua franca, and from Nasser to Nasrallah it has not changed in over fifty years. The United States is hated not because of what it does, or because of what it is. The United States is hated for what it is not, not Arab and not Muslim.”
Later, in the comments, Totten “unpacks” it for his more obtuse readers:
They hate everybody. We are part of “everybody.” They didn’t notice us or care before we showed up in the region, but we’re there now, we can’t leave any time soon, so we’re stuck with each other.
They also hate each other as much as, if not more than, they hate us. It doesn’t matter how nice Barack Obama is. He can’t change this. None of us can change this.
One thing that’s very strange about it, and makes it initially hard to discern from up close, is that almost all Arabs are extremely polite and hospitable in person. If you go there, you won’t feel the hatred unless you are spectacularly unlucky.
So there you have it. Anti-American sentiment is completely isolated from any American actions. Arab Muslims have a problem with Americans because they’re not Arab Muslims. It has nothing to do with US support for Israel, the invasion of Iraq or support for authoritarian despots in the region. Hell, it’s not even because “they hate our freedom,” as Bush would have it. The reason why Arab Muslims are anti-American is because they’re anti-everybody. They hate everyone, including themselves, and if you haven’t noticed, it’s because Arabs are polite and won’t tell you to your face that they despise you for being, well, not them.
And since hostility to the US is completely irrational and ungrounded in any actual problems with American foreign policy, the logical conclusion is that nothing can be done to curb it. That being the case, Lee Smith gives us his informed opinion about what US policy in the Middle East should look like:
So how do we carry ourselves in the Middle East? My advice comes from the book’s title: the strong horse not only punishes his enemies, he also rewards and protects his friends, sometimes by punishing their enemies.
The rest of the discussion is interesting for its total lack of understanding of al-Qaida, which Lee Smith insists is but an arm of Arab regimes’ foreign policy. His discussion of that point is a little muddled, because he can’t seem to decide whether its the long arm of Syria, Jordan, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
So it’s really a nice, circular justification for US foreign policy. Do whatever you want, because at the end of the day, your actions have no bearing at all on how you are perceived in the world. So being that Arabs only respect force, you need to be the “strong horse,” and presumably that involves killing more Arabs (any ones will do, really). As Rodenbeck shows:
Thus, in his view, America could justifiably have attacked any number of Arab countries in retaliation for September 11 – when, he writes, “19 Arabs had struck the United States on behalf of Arab causes – Palestine, US sanctions on Iraq, US troops in Saudi Arabia, and so forth – supported by Arab rulers and the Arab masses alike.” The necessary response, Smith writes, was “a punitive war against the Arabs” – and Saddam Hussein simply “drew the short stick”.
This sort of rhetoric wouldn’t be so serious and could be chalked up to Totten’s American, aww-chucks approach to foreign policy if those unfamiliar with the region weren’t likely to swallow it wholesale. But the fact of the matter is that this sort of talk is attractive to a lot of people in the US who don’t want to believe that US actions have anything to do with anti-American resentment. And the logical conclusion to this line of thinking is ugly and somewhat frightening, mirroring the situation in Gaza, as summed up by one of Totten’s loyal readers who writes in the comments:
If those in the Middle East want to kill each other, let them have at it. If they feel they have to bring their insanity here, it is time to introduce them to the concept of the vendetta. Nasser dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood by killing their families in toto; They need lessons of total retaliation, until they understand. I believe it is one aspect of the Third Rule.
Further, they need to be put in isolation until they learn to behave or, if not possible, they should be treated like rabid animals.