Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It?s not just lines in the sand

Satloff defines the state of states in the Middle East

Express Staff Writer

Dr. Robert Satloff

Middle East expert Dr. Robert Satloff spoke to an inquisitive audience at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum Monday, Oct. 15, about the Middle East's geographical, political and ethnic history, as well as the current states of states. His lecture was part of The Sun Valley Center for the Arts' multidisciplinary project "Lines in the Earth: Maps, Power and the Imagination."

Satloff's lecture, "Middle Easts: Mapping the Political Geography of a Troubled Region," presented an informative and enlightening perspective of a region that has been a source of contention for United States politics for decades. Since 9/11 it has been blamed for America's tightened security measures and confusing foreign policy.

Satloff serves as executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a public educational foundation dedicated to scholarly research and informed debate on U.S. interests in the Middle East. An author and editor of nine books, Satloff is frequently published in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. He is also the host of a non-Arab program, Dakhil Washington, on an Arab satellite channel that airs on the U.S. government-supported channel al-Hurra.

Satloff not only eloquently explained how the physical maps of the region are as intricate as the diversity of religions, cultures and governments, but that Americans do not fully understand the region, its many states or the centuries of history behind it.

"Religion is first and prominent, but there are other identifying factors to who are Middle East people, such as their tribal identity," Satloff said. "And then there is the way in which the West identifies the Middle East. It is a Middle East of our imagination as we have imagined it to be ..."

Satloff said that understanding the Middle East people and the states of the region has been undermined by pollsters who have not properly identified the people and their connection to the region.

"Up until 10 years ago we observed behavior of people by the choices people make in their lives. We measured political views by protests, coups and parades," Satloff said. "We began to make public opinion polls, which measured attitude or professed attitudes, but polling in a place such as Morocco you would need to ask in what language because each response would be different."

Satloff had only recently come from Morocco, where he had lived with his family after 9/11. He used it several times as an example of a country that is a North African sub-region of the Middle East with a history as varied as the people who live there.

The countries, states and sub-regions of the Middle East reveal a division and distribution of land into multi-ethnic melting pots with a collection of leaders who reflect the state of the states, and where the politics of the states are first and foremost local.

Satloff said that although the Iraq world is tragic for the Iraqis and the U.S. troops serving in Iraq, there is no regional confrontation with Iraq except for the Saudis, who want to build a fence along the border to keep the conflict contained to Iraq.

Although terrorist organizations are "the new kid on the block" and need to be addressed, they are non-state actors and have nothing on the power of states, said Satloff.

"Technology is more powerful today than the greatest emir or sultans in history," he said. "States have enormous power today, and the second rate leaders of small countries have the ability to control people's lives, which historically they only dreamed about. The dominant reality is that states are the key element."

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