“If you want to understand the world,” my great professor of Arabic at Columbia told me, “you need only remember this:
- “The British want to be respected;
- The French want to be admired;
- The Russians want to be feared;
- And the Americans want to be liked.”
It was one of many things — Arab literature and Arabic composition and style (al-inshaa wa-al–usloob) — given me by Professor Pierre Cachia, a wise and worldly man who tells jokes in English, French and Arabic, all perfectly grammatical.
If I told my professor’s joke to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, there is a chance he might smile or give me a quick and rueful “da, konyeshno” — “yes, of course.”
If I got to tell President Barack Obama my joke at a Democratic fundraiser or on the golf course, he might respond with a smidgen of recognition, because the joke nicely sums up Putin’s world view and Obama’s “flexible” approach to world affairs.
To be fair to Putin, Russia’s desire to be feared did not start with Putin, and it is not just a Russian desire. Other states like being feared, too, and America’s yen for affection did not commence with President Obama, though he embraces it more than any other American leader in history, especially when facing the Middle East.
Once in office, Obama rushed to greet the Islamic countries, reminding everyone he was Barack HUSSEIN Obama, the man whose middle name re-emerged after the election, the man who loved the sound of the Islamic call to prayer and who was proud to tell everyone that he was born to a Muslim father.
In a spate of trips, interviews and policy initiatives, Obama flirted with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, embraced Turkey’s Islamist autocrat, courted Syria’s dictator, and “engaged” Iran’s maniacal ayatollahs. But somehow, it did not work.
To be fair to Obama, his courtship of the Islamic community was more than just about wanting to be liked. It was about the vision of another Columbia professor who influenced Obama: Edward Said, the dapper dabbler in anti-colonialism who fancied himself (like Obama) more of an expert on the Arab East than he really was.
Obama, who transferred to Columbia a few years after I completed my degrees, never studied with my professor, Pierre Cachia, and he does not know Arabic or much Islamic history, but he became friendly with Professor Said, an English professor and literary critic who pretended to know Arabic and Arab history.
Like Obama, Said was a secular Christian with strong political loyalties to Islam and to the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians. In mid-life, Said began to support Arab causes, becoming a member of the PLO, and went to Lebanon to try to learn literary Arabic. He failed. To his dying day, he never cited one Arabic source in his writings.
Edward Said put forth “Orientalism” — a book and a doctrine that bewitched two generations of Western academics and students, pumping politically correct, but factually inaccurate nonsense. The West, noted Said, used its knowledge of the (Arab) East to exploit and enslave it.
“To have such knowledge of such a thing,” averred Professor Said, “is to dominate it.” (Said, Orientalism, p.32.). Liberation of the East demanded Western ignorance.
The fullest flowering of Saidism, the willful Western ignorance of the East, is the administration of Barack Hussein Obama. A blind man throwing darts at a map of the Mid-East could not miss one of many man-made disaster areas created by Obama’s administration: Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Syria, Palestinians, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
So who is laughing at my old professor’s joke? Who is liked, feared or admired?
Of all the states in the Middle East, the one hated the most by Edward Said and the one bad-mouthed the most by Obama administration officials is Israel, the Western democracy that knows the most about the Arabs because its life depends on it.
Leaders of Arab countries will not say so publicly, but they have learned to fear and now to respect and admire Israel for its successes in many fields — from agriculture to high-tech and the battlefield.
If you quietly ask the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and even the Saudis, they will tell you (in confidence) they admire and respect the way Israel has dealt with Hizballah and Hamas. They only regret that Israel did not finish the job of destroying those Iran-backed groups.
Elsewhere, countries once again fear Putin’s Russia, a third-rate power where men live to the ripe old age of 53 on the average.
As for Obama’s America, more countries than ever show disdain for a leader who hoped to be the life of the party, who yearned to be liked by acting dumb.