The Mess in the Middle East
Ambassador Chas Freeman is a distinguished retired American diplomat with extensive experience in the Middle East. His posts include ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs under President Clinton. He gave the keynote speech on October 27 at the 20th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference, sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Conference sponsors include most major U.S. corporations with interests in the Middle East and beyond.
Freeman has a reputation as a straight speaker who doesn’t sugarcoat his views, and he has very strong views on the Middle East in general and U.S. policy toward the region in particular. Those views are on full and eloquent display in this speech. Freeman has harsh words for the policies of the current Israeli government and for U.S. support for those policies. Readers are likely to either agree wholeheartedly with or dismiss entirely his comments on the subject, a reflection of the seeming inability to have a rational discussion of U.S. policy toward Israel. Of greater value in these extensive remarks, perhaps, are Freeman’s views on the current political situation in the Arab world and the challenges it presents for the U.S. and for the Arab countries themselves. Equally insightful are his thoughts on the implications for the Arab world of Iran’s increasingly powerful position in the region. In one of his few positive conclusions, Freeman highlights the cultural differences he believes make Arabs less susceptible to the current Iranian ideology, and suggests ways for the Arabs to choose the “field of battle” in that ideological conflict.