Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 19, 1983, Page 2


Shooting From the Hip

It has not been our practice in this column to criticize the opinions expressed by writers in other publications. Frankly, we just don't have the space: we disagree with far too many of the opinions!

We are making an exception, however, in the case of an article which appeared in a recent issue of Near East Report, the organ of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). We believe that the article reflects a political paranoia which seems all too common among U.S. supporters of Israel's policies, and the fact that AIPAC is the principal lobbying organization for Jewish Americans lends it special significance.

Written by "D.S.," the initials of the publication's assistant editor, David Silverberg, the article conjures up a doom-filled scenario of what perils may lie ahead if Richard Murphy, the former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is confirmed as the new Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian affairs.

Guilt by Association

One of the alleged perils stems, it seems, from guilt by association. A reason for "considerable concern among Israel's American supporters," Mr. D.S. says, is that Mr. Murphy has been an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Imagine! "American ambassadors to Saudi Arabia," he explains, "have long been known for the vehemence of their pro-Arab, and particularly pro-Saudi, views." After these ambassadors leave the foreign service, he adds, "they become highly vocal advocates of Arab causes."

Mr. Murphy has not yet left the foreign service. But if we accepted this writer's confident logic, we would already know (does Mr. Murphy know yet?) just what he plans to do when he does.

We are also informed in the article that Mr. Murphy's appointment may "send danger signals" to Lebanon. How so? The explanation proffered sounds as though it could have been spoken from a psychiatrist's couch by a patient with a bad case of Saudi-phobia: "Saudi Arabia has refused American requests to pressure Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and has opposed the Lebanese-Israeli agreement. The appointment of a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia to a top post in Middle East regional affairs may signal U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Lebanon."

In other words, we are being asked to believe that the appointment may signal a 180-degree turn in U.S. policy: i.e., the U.S. will disavow the Lebanon-Israel agreement which it helped negotiate and which it considered a major achievement, and will then tell Syria's President Assad that he was quite right in having decided not to withdraw from Lebanon for as long as that agreement is in effect. In our opinion, this is exactly what the U.S. should do (see The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, of Sept. 5, 1983, p. 2)—but we find it amazing that anyone should believe that the appointment of a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia to the job of Assistant Secretary should be considered as evidence that it will. It's perhaps just as well that Mr. Murphy is not in the habit of wearing black hats: there's no telling what panic that might sow within AIPAC.

Unfortunately, the writer does more than just set the alarm bells ringing in a manner so paranoid that it has its amusing side. He also comes very close to impugning Mr. Murphy's integrity. And that's not amusing at all. First he says that Mr. Murphy "is viewed by many as one of those State Department Arabists who seek balance support for Israel in Congress and among the general public." Then, making it clear that the writer is among the "many" who feel that way, he digs out a 12-year-old quotation attributed to Mr. Murphy and proceeds to twist it out of context. He notes that Mr. Murphy told columnist Joseph Kraft in 1971 that the duty of an Arab world specialist was "to play a role in projecting (Arab) feelings. That's what we're paid to do." The writer adds: "Presumably this is also what Murphy is likely to do in his new capacity."

A Diplomat's Functions

It is clearly a distortion of the meaning of Mr. Murphy's comment to imply, as the writer does, that by "projecting" Arab feelings Mr. Murphy meant "giving a favorable interpretation" to those feelings for the specific purpose of providing a "counterbalance" to the Israeli viewpoint. It should have been clear to Mr. D.S. that Mr. Murphy would hardly inform a newspaper columnist that the U.S. government was paying him to push the Arab line—that what he actually meant was that it was the duty of Arab specialists in the field to interpret for the benefit of the State Department just how the Arabs felt about a given issue. How else would the Department find out? This is one of the basic functions of a diplomat abroad.

Over the years, we have become acquainted with a large number of State Department "Arabists" (Mideast specialists, really), including Mr. Murphy. It has always been our impression that these career foreign service officers have approached their jobs not from any "pro-Arab" perspective, but from the perspective of what they believe to be in the best interests of the United States. When Israel carries out an act that they believe does not coincide with the U.S. interest, it is their duty to say so (even if their bosses, the politicians, do not always pay any attention). By doing this, of course, they arouse the antagonism of organizations like AIPAC. But AIPAC is beating the wrong horse. The diplomat should not be blamed for passing along what he sees as the truth, any more than the Greek messenger should have been put away because he delivered bad news.

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