On Israel’s northern border with Hezbollah expert.

I am often confronted with a dual reality, conveying what I see and learn in the Middle East and what I teach to my colleagues and students in the U.S. The problem is that the Western conceptual framework is, more often than not, a false lens for comprehending the region. Worse, we think we understand what the people, or more accurately, the authoritarian regimes, will accept. These misconceptions lead to false hopes and failed policies. 

It all begins with what our future leaders in business, politics, the media, and academics learn as students on U.S. college campuses. We are now 30 years into the transformation of college education from liberal open-mindedness to woke indoctrination and censorship, as university faculty and administrations have squeezed out dissent over the years. 

As Eli Lake wrote in the Free Press, according to a 2022 study from the National Association of Scholars, Qatar is the largest foreign donor to American universities. “The same country now protecting Hamas’s senior leaders…is part of a larger effort to exert soft power in the West.” 

Let’s look at examples of the problems and then some remedies. 

First, the Middle East works on a different clock. Its wars don’t end on a Western timeline.

America has mismanaged its 45-year relationship with the theocratic tyranny ruling Iran. Too many American policymakers and pundits believe this revolutionary regime with hegemonic ambitions has the same risk tolerance and desire to better its populace as we would have, because we erroneously believe that everyone in the world ascribes to universalist ideals. We want to believe they will honestly put the issues on the table, reach compromises, and move on with civilized life.

If only. 

We also too often divide the world into oppressed and oppressor in such a manner that allows horrific regimes to get away with unconscionable misogyny and human rights abuses because they are perceived to be victims. Just take a look at university professors and their young devotees defending Hamas on college campuses. 

This applies to Iran and Hamas, which blithely ignore and rationalize rape  as part of the “resistance.” Self-loathing Americans excuse such atrocities while ignoring the victims, whether it be Iranians raped and tortured in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran for simply wanting to be free of the mullahs, or the many remaining Israeli hostages in Rafah, Khan Kunis or who knows where. (Perhaps our Egyptian allies, who allowed 50 tunnels from Gaza to the Egyptian Sinai, can tell us.)

In the case of Hamas, reporters and their Squad adherents ignore legitimate self-defense and rally for the resistance fighters, also known as terrorists. They either falsely claim that Israel is committing worse atrocities than the terrorists or that it targets civilians when, in reality, it is the terrorists who place innocents in harm’s way in a deliberate effort to manipulate journalists.

In the case of Iran, it is fashionable in anti-American circles to claim that American imperialism is the root cause of Iran’s insecurity. It naturally follows that during the pro-Hamas protests, there has also been a call to end America.

The genocidal words of true oppressors, Hamas and Iran, are brushed aside or rationalized by illiberal elites on campus, MSNBC, and even NPR. 

Hamas’ genocidal intentions, proven by its actions and documented in its Charter, or the Islamic Republic’s Constitution which mandates the spread of jihad to unbelievers and the regime’s call for the destruction of the Jewish nation, make no impact on the Squad or woke students.

These sheep are herded on campuses by pro-Hamas groups such as SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) and America’s brainwashing academics. Most professors who disagree are too cowardly to speak up. 

So, what to do?

First, a new or revitalized administration needs to lead an exercise in self-criticism to disabuse misinformed members of Congress, the media, and academics that it is not condescending to acknowledge most Middle Eastern nations and their terrorist proxies abuse their people and fly in the face of American values. Indeed, there are members of Congress who are still open-minded, if only given the facts in context, not political talking points.

So, let’s begin by ending Western timelines to create strategies that will advance our interests. We must accept that Middle Eastern problems will outlast most four and eight-year timelines.

Let us also state unapologetically that America has done much more good in the world than any other nation. The world would be a much more dangerous place without American leadership. I am more than willing to have this fight with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Christopher Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Second, end appeasement as a strategy to deal with tyrannies like Iran’s. Reinstitute maximum sanctions on Iran, including secondary sanctions on its fossil fuel customers, such as China. This will bleed Iran’s economy, decrease funds for its terror networks, and create instability in its populace, who are looking for the opportunity to change their nation’s leadership. 

If only the Obama administration had not abandoned the Iranian people in 2009 during their Green Revolution, sacrificing them for a dangerous nuclear deal that guarantees that its theocratic regime can terrorize the region with nuclear weapons.

Obama and Kerry thought that, by not arresting Iranian agents in America, giving $1.7 billion in cash to the Ayatollah, and ignoring sanctions, it would be reciprocated with moderation. If only. 

Third, stop compromising and creating moral equivalence where there is none. Israel and Hamas are not the same. Rape, the use of human shields, misogyny, and honor killings should never be tolerated or excused as a warped form of “resistance.” They should be called out and condemned. Tell those in Congress and on college campuses that this is the sort of thing they are supporting. 

We must be unapologetic in counteracting false narratives, as when journalists or members of Congress say Israel is committing genocide. It is not only untrue, but antisemitic, as it inverts the victim and victimizer. If Israel’s policy were genocide, then how on Earth has the Palestinian population quadrupled since 1967?

As London’s Sunday Times columnist Hadley Freeman said after Oct. 7, “Seeing the way people on the left here dismissed the brutal murders, rapes, torture, kidnapping of Jews…I couldn’t draw any other conclusion but that they hate Jews.” 

Fourth, it is important to learn that concessions as part of a strategy without reciprocity are a central American strategic error. They are viewed in the Middle East as a weakness, an invitation to be more aggressive. It is analogous to those cowardly college administrators who choose to appease and negotiate with law-breaking students. 

As for the Gaza war that consumes the Biden administration, take off your stopwatch, as your pressure for a premature “end of the war” or a path to a Palestinian state or a specific day-after strategy will fare no better than our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those failed remedies blew up in our faces, but they were over 6,000 miles from our shore.

Our ally Israel doesn’t have that luxury; it must live with terrorists on its borders forever. Stop following the anti-Israel crowd; they aren’t your supporters; they want to bring down America too.

Fortunately, America’s past failed Middle East strategies do not have to be its future. 

Confront the anti-American propaganda on college campuses and the simplistic, counterproductive, and false narratives of the Middle East in Congress and the media. It will take a generation or two to change, but only if an American administration wants to educate the American people and take on an increasingly narrow-minded, illiberal left.  

One big problem: the anti-American voices are in ascendency in Congress, in universities, and in the media. So we had better get going. 

This article appeared in The Hill June 12, 2024

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network and Mandel Strategies. 

By mepin