Tag Archives: Experts

Rule of experts

Your money is safe here.

With the Qadhafi regime dissolving in Tripoli and the revolutionary forces ready to take over the country, I keep thinking about a conversation I had in Istanbul six months ago that I think exemplifies the problem of Middle East “experts” these days.

I was just back from the uprising in Cairo and high on revolutionary fervor, but I was planning on staying in Turkey indefinitely and needed a way to make money besides flailing around trying to do freelance journalism about a country I don’t know very well at a time when everyone’s attention was focused elsewhere.

I swallowed my pride and applied for a position as a “researcher” at a company that writes reports on countries in the Global South to help capitalists in the Global North decide where to invest. (There are, for some reason, a number of firms that do this kind of research in Istanbul and I won’t name which I applied to.) With my experience in Egypt, I was going to work on their North Africa desk.

I went in for an interview with the head of their Africa division. I told him my thoughts on Egypt and Tunisia (whatever my thoughts were at that point…) and then the conversation turned to Libya. I believe that this was on February 19, two days after the protests started in Benghazi. Protests were also heating up in Bahrain and Yemen. I told this person interviewing me that I didn’t know much about Libya, but I questioned the Qadhafi regime’s stability and I thought that the revolutions were spread.

“No,” the Africa expert said. “Benghazi flares up like this every once in a while and then it gets quieted down. People’s investments in Libya are safe.”

Six months later, crazy Qadhafi is almost gone, added to the (I hope growing) list of Arab dictators whose time has finally come in 2011. Many people in the business of making predictions, the “experts” on whom so many businesspeople and journalists and politicians rely, are, or at least should be, kicking themselves for their inability to see the fundamental instability of the Arab dictatorship model.

I hope that the same guy is now telling people how safe their money is in Syria.


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Fad diet?

Badger over at missing links had this to say about my favorite national security/Middle East intellectuals:

So it is that the savvy readers of the center-left have been put on an information diet that somewhat resembles that of the neo-cons during the Bush years: Whatever the American administration and the American president does is to be honored for the good intentions that they represent: Allies like Israel are to be supported; expressions of the “hearts-go-out” type are to be accepted as if they were “overwhelmingly significant” policy statements; “racism” and “militarism” in connection with American policy are expressions that are to be avoided. And so on.

My theory is that what was called the center-left has become the new neo-con movement. It says–by what it collectively trumpets and by what it collectively leaves out–that what has been achieved in our democracy is a sufficient remedy for the major ills of the present, provided that our institutions, and particularly our president, are given sufficient time to proceed in their deliberate fashion. Everything else is overblown rhetoric.

I’m not sure if this center-left is going to maintain the status quo to such an extent.  It’s possible, but we should wait and see.  Besides, I generally agree with Spencer Ackerman or Marc Lynch.

But it is interesting nonetheless to think about the center-left taking the place of the neocons.  It’s never good to get all of your information from just one place, but wouldn’t you rather trust Marc Lynch or Juan Cole–people who speak Arabic, are knowledgable about Islam, have spent time in the region–over Richard Perle?

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Filed under American Politics, Media