Conventional wisdom vs. evidenced-reality
According to the late Prof. John Kenneth Galbraith, “the notion of conventional wisdom… is commonly understood as knowledge that is accepted within a certain community or among the general public…. [They] tend to hold on to opinions and ideas that fit with their established worldviews. Accordingly, conventional wisdom provides an obstacle for the acceptance of new knowledge or novel and original thinking….
“To its adherents, conventional wisdom provides comfortable padding against inconvenient truths and the complexities of reality…. This is a prime manifestation of vested interest. For a vested interest in understanding is more preciously guarded than any other treasure…. Acceptable ideas are disinclined to change….
“In the struggle between what is correct and what is agreeable, conventional wisdom had a tactical advantage…. There are many reasons why people like to hear articulated that which they approve…. It serves the ego: the individual has the satisfaction of knowing that other and more famous people share his conclusions….
“The enemy of conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events [evidence].… The fatal blow to conventional wisdom comes when conventional ideas fail signally to deal with some contingency to which obsolescence has made them palpably inapplicable.… The concept of conventional wisdom accentuated the difference between established truths – fundamentally out-of-touch with contemporary challenges – and new knowledge….”
Yale University’s Prof. Harlan Krumholz adds: “In science, what seems obvious may not be true, and what is accepted as conventional wisdom, may sometimes be based on flawed assumptions.”
State Department’s conventional wisdom challenged
The US State Department’s policy-making has been at odds with Middle East reality (evidence), elevating conventional wisdom (worldview) over the inconvenient truths and frustrating complexities of the jerkily-cyclical Middle Eastern reality.
*The State Department’s conventional wisdom has been guided by the conviction that the Arab/Muslim Middle East is amenable to noble Western values such as peaceful-coexistence, enhanced standard of living, democracy, human rights, good-faith negotiation, adherence to international law and a multilateral policy (along with the UN, international organizations and Europe, rather than a unilateral US national security action).
However, the harsh, complex, inconvenient and frustrating Middle East reality has rejected these values, sticking to its intrinsic intra-Muslim/Arab 1,400-year-old traits: preeminence of tribal/ethnic – over national – loyalty, deeply-rooted fragmentation (domestically and regionally), violent unpredictability, brutal intolerance, ideology-driven terrorism, despotic/one-bullet regimes (open to sedition and coups), tenuous regimes-policies-accords and anti-Western ideology (culturally, religiously and strategically).
*Foggy Bottom’s conventional wisdom has assumed that the Arab/Muslim Middle East (e.g., Iran’s Ayatollahs) could be induced into peaceful- coexistence and the abandonment of a deeply-rooted religious-ideological vision by substantial economic benefits, despite the Middle East’s 1,400-year-old track record.
Thus, the State Department has underestimated the cardinal role played by history, ethnicity, tribalism, religion, ideology and the 1,400-year-old intrinsic, rogue political culture in the shaping of intra-Arab/Muslim and Arab/Muslim-West relations.
*Contrary to the State Department’s conventional wisdom, Middle East terrorism has not been driven by despair and frustration, but has been driven – since the 7th century – by historic, religious and fanatic vision.
*Contrary to the State Department’s conventional wisdom, the Middle East considers posture of deterrence and the military option – not the diplomatic option – as the key factor of responsible national security policy. Moreover, the Middle East does not tolerate – and severely punishes – hesitancy, concessions, retreats and appeasement, which it perceives as weakness, whetting the appetite of rogue entities.
*The State Department’s conventional wisdom highlights diplomacy (which has generated a robust tailwind for Iran’s Ayatollahs and headwind for the US), international law, human rights and economic benefits in its attempts to restore the strategic reliability of the US in the eyes of its Arab allies. At the same time, it is eagerly pursuing another accord with Iran’s Ayatollahs and embraces the “Muslim Brotherhood,” which is the largest Sunni terror organization with political, religious and welfare branches.
However, the march-of-events in the Middle East has determined that the restoration of the US’ strategic stature in the eyes of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan, on the one hand, and attempting to conclude another accord with Iran’s Ayatollahs and embracing the “Muslim Brotherhood,” on the other hand, constitute a thundering oxymoron.
Moreover, pro-US Arabs question the strategic reliability of the US in view of the US’ adherence to the 43-year-old diplomatic option toward Iran’s Ayatollahs (whom they consider – along with the “Muslim Brotherhood” – to be mortal threats). In addition, pro-US Arabs are deeply concerned about President Biden’s delisting of the pro-Iranian Yemenite Houthis from the list of terror entities, which intensified the Houthi shelling of Saudi and Emirati civilian targets; the US’ reluctance to punish the Ayatollahs for bombing Saudi, Emirati and US targets in the Persian Gulf region; tolerating the release of frozen Iranian assets in Iraq; the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is perceived by pro-US Arabs as a retreat; and, the reduction of the US military deployment in the Middle East.
The erosion in the US posture of deterrence has been reflected by the gradual and substantial drift, by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt toward China (which has become the largest trading partner of Persian Gulf states) and Russia, including military contracts and construction of nuclear power plants.
*The State Department’s flawed conventional wisdom was underscored when it welcomed (in 2010/2011) the Arab Tsunami – which is still traumatizing the Arab Street – as an Arab Spring, Facebook and Youth Revolution and a March toward Peace.
*The dramatic gap between Foggy Bottom’s conventional wisdom and Middle Eastern reality was revealed by the State Department’s courting of the pro-Soviet Nasser of Egypt in the 1950s; embracing Iran’s Ayatollahs and facilitating their rise to power in February 1979; considering Saddam Hussein an ally of the US until his 1990 invasion of Kuwait; the 1994-2003 heralding of Arafat as a messenger of peace, deserving the Nobel Prize for peace; the 2011 US-led military offensive against Qaddafi, which transformed Libya into an uncontrollable country, one of the largest platforms of anti-US Islamic terrorism, afflicted by civil wars with the involvement of Russia, Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, France, Italy, Sudan and Chad; the 2009-2012 courting of Egypt’s anti-US “Muslim Brotherhood,” while stabbing the back of the pro-US Mubarak, which was similar to the embrace of the anti-US Ayatollah Khomeini, while stabbing the back of the pro-US Shah of Iran; and the list goes on.
*All of the US State Department’s Israel-Arab peace proposals have been driven by the Palestinian-centered conventional wisdom. Therefore, these proposals have been systematically frustrated by Middle Eastern reality, which has never perceived the Palestinian issue to be the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, neither a core cause of Middle East turbulence, nor a crown-jewel of Arab policy-making. While the State Department’s conventional wisdom has been infatuated with Palestinians, the Middle East’s march-of-evidence has made the Palestinians a role-model of intra-Arab subversion, terrorism and ingratitude, as well as a 100-year-old terror campaign against the idea of a Jewish State.
Will the US policy-makers for the Middle East learn from past critical mistakes by elevating the Middle East reality – as complex and frustrating as it is – over State Department’s convenient and comfortable conventional wisdom?