Michael Rubin argues that the current state of Middle East studies in U.S. universities bears some responsibility for the present crisis in the region. Much of this can be traced back to the destructive ideological legacy of Columbia University’s Edward Said, whose best-known arguments licensed others “to prioritize polemic and politics above fact and scholarly rigor.” Rubin explains:
Rashid Khalidi, a close friend of Obama from their mutual University of Chicago days, now holds a chair named in Said’s honor at Columbia. He has consistently argued that politicians and diplomats do not listen to those like himself who claim expertise in the Middle East. . . . Khalidi, as with many others in his field, both sought to prioritize and to amplify the importance of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
At the same time, he appears obsessed with post-colonial theory, [according to which] American power is corrosive, and the road to Middle East peace runs through Jerusalem. Likewise, cultural equivalence predominates: what the West calls terrorism is not so black and white. Hateful ideologies? They are simply the result of grievance. America should apologize and understand and accommodate itself to the position of the other if it is committed truly to peace.
Barack Obama entered office having internalized such beliefs. Rather than act as leader of the free world, he approached the Middle East as a zoning commissioner. What he lacked in understanding, he compensated for with arrogance—dispensing with decades of accumulated wisdom and experience of predecessors both Democrat and Republican. Rather than jumpstarting the peace process, Obama succeeded in setting it back decades.