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Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Carnegie’s Diwan channel leaves out crucial background on Jennifer Cafarella and the Institute for Study of War

This short interview with ISW’s Jennifer Cafarella by Michael Young provides a small window into at least three problems of journalism and analysis that continue to haunt the public discourse on Middle East policy.

  1. When introducing analysts and their tanks, the unknowing reader needs to understand how both are positioned in terms of politics, policy and financing –  beyond what said analyst and tank post as their public profiles.

This mistake comes up again and again and is extremely damaging to the public discourse. If someone works for an institute funded in part or whole by a government, by the Koch brothers, Iraq War architects The Kagans (ISW and AEI), a Gulf Prince, a labor union, close associates of Hillary Clinton, a peace group, a Russian-financed shop etc., then in all such cases a line or two that situates the political and financial constraints of the organization is crucial for the reader to know (it really only takes a sentence or two). Furthermore, if someone works for ISW and AEI, as Cafarella does, and routinely pens policy reports and makes public statements calling for a full-throated US invasion of Syria, as but one example from Cafarella’s library, then it is essential that the interviewer flags this with at least one line. The reader may completely agree with Cafarella’s analysis – and be fully convinced of the need to surge US soldiers into Syria for a full-blown “counter-insurgency” campaign alongside no-fly zones and a potential war with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Russia, as Cafarella has wagered – but the interviewer has the responsibility to inform the reader that this is a major policy position staked out by the analyst so that the ideas can be better understood within the clear overall framework/agenda that has been plainly stated as such. Young, unfortunately, goes with a copy paste version of the ISW-provided bio.

2. Journalists and interviewers need to critically evaluate whether an analyst is professionally qualified to speak on a particular subject, especially military matters since this field obviously involves life or death.

I have written extensively on this subject when it comes to Crisis Group and others:

When NGOs Call For Military Intervention in Syria: The Case of the International Crisis Group:

The Dangers Of Divining Iranian Intentions, Without Iranians:

According to her official bio, “Ms. Cafarella received her B.A. from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Global Studies with a focus on the Middle East. She is proficient in Arabic.” This is fine, but she is pronouncing sometimes on strictly military matters and has co-authored policy recommendations calling for extensive military intervention in the Middle East. Her Diwan interview centers on military matters. As far as this reader can tell, it seems she has no military training or experience, although she has spoken at conferences to some military professionals.

3. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

A criticism I made briefly on Twitter to Young and Heiko Wimmen involves Cafarella’s closing statement which is a classic neo-con, pro-interventionist mind trick (but one that always works quite well on the Hill): “… Israel will most likely continue to manage this escalation in the near term. Israeli airstrikes will continue to target Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in Syria in order to disrupt supply lines, deny high-end transfers of weapons, and deter Iran from building up its presence along the Golan Heights beyond a level that Israel views as tolerable. Israel’s campaign will likely succeed in the near term, because Iran is unlikely to pursue a direct escalation with Israel under current conditions. [But] Israel needs U.S. help to reduce Iran’s strength in Syria…”

On the one hand Cafarella and other leading neo-cons in DC want to allow Israel maximum freedom to conduct military operations abroad – and therefore routinely argue that the danger of such operations getting out of control is limited (the usual heuristic device is to say all will be fine in the “near term”, just let the Israelis “pre-emptively” attack) – while on the other hand, they raise the alarm that the US must intervene because “Israel needs U.S. help to reduce Iran’s strength in Syria” in the medium and long-term.

Unfortunately, Young (interviewing on behalf of an endowment expressly dedicated to peace and peace-building) does not challenge Cafarella on her construction, which means the reader never gets an answer to the crucial question of why US intervention will be necessary later if the current Israeli strategy is in fact so effective and safe in limiting Iran et al. (this particular argument is used to soothe any Congressional and Executive branch fears that Israel’s “targeted,” “pre-emptive” strikes might suddenly spark a wider conflict)? What exactly might change in the medium and longer terms to justify Cafarella’s grand assertion that, “Israel needs U.S. help to reduce Iran’s strength in Syria?” And this is all without asking whether US interests should be defined in a 1:1 relationship with Israeli interests.

Of course, Cafarella, her Kagan co-authors, ISW and AEI are all major proponents in DC of pushing a violent, US-led “roll back” strategy against Iran, Assad and their allies. In this effort, they generally want Israel to have full freedom of action but they really want the US to get involved militarily alongside Israel as soon as possible. As such, they boomerang inside their unresolved contradiction: Israel’s “pre-emptive” actions are both successful and containable (according to these sides) and should therefore be supported by the US, but for some reason, “later on,” this contention will no longer hold and the US will have to invade.

Sadly, although Cafarella concludes by complaining that “the U.S. is not currently pursuing a strategy to contain and reduce the overall strength of Iran’s proxy network in Syria and its infiltration into regime structures,” 2018 may very well bring her wish of a “roll back” campaign by a newly invigorated Trump administration – a move that will surely plunge the Middle East and beyond into an even deeper level of violence, hopelessness and state-society breakdown than has already obtained since the 2003 invasion of Iraq (which Michael Young supported).

Just as I wrote in May 2011 when the Syria revolts were on the verge of a widespread militarization, we are about to see if this particular approach favored by ISW, AEI and so many others actually works in practice. If the past 15 years are any indication, the results will indeed again be exceedingly deadly.



Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 28, 2018 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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