The Wit and Wisdom of Martin Indyk

August 2, 2013

In Blog


Finkelstein comments: The core of Martin Indyk’s book Innocent Abroad: An intimate account of American peace diplomacy in the Middle East (New York: 2009) merely rehashes Dennis Ross’s The Missing Peace: The inside story of the fight for Middle East peace (New York: 2004).   I have already dissected Ross’s apologetics in Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish romance with Israel is coming to an end (New York: 2012), chapter 9.  Here I simply quote some of Indyk’s novel insights into Arabs in general, Palestinians in particular, and the art of diplomacy.



On Arab versus American values:


Thus dignity, honor, respect, tribal loyalty, and revenge tended to be the values that dominated relations between people and between states, in contrast to the American values of freedom, equality, democracy and the rule of law.[1]




On why Arabs distrust American idealism:


U.S. foreign policy, when it seeks to intervene in the affairs of other states and regions, is often inspired by an idealism that leads Americans to want to extend the bounteous beneficence they have experienced in their own lives to other people.  But in the Middle East this do-good impulse is greeted with a cynicism that is the product of the Arab experience in competing for scarce resources in societies where opportunity is determined by tribal or family connections rather than on merit.[2]




On the peculiarities of Arab customs:


In the Middle East, shaking hands is a symbolic act of recognition.[3]




On the challenges of communicating with educated Arabs:


Whereas the king [of Jordan] spoke precisely and concisely, his brother had adopted the affectations of an Oxford don; his circumlocutory sentences were interspersed with unintelligible words like holistic and epistemological.[4]




On the mysterious Orient:


In the Middle East, appearance is often more important than reality.[5]




On the gullibility of people:


By 1995, notwithstanding the policy’s success, discomfort with the sanctions was already growing in the international community…. At the United Nations, Madeleine Albright tried to counter this erosion…. Still, it was increasingly accepted worldwide that sanctions were responsible for inflicting undue suffering on the Iraqi people.[6]




On Bush’s failure to grasp the function of diplomacy:


Much of the ill will earned by the Bush administration in the international community over the Iraq policy was an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound generated by a willful disregard of the role of diplomacy in providing a cloak of international legitimacy for the strategy of preventive war that it had decided to pursue.[7]




On the exorbitance of Palestinian demands:


For Arafat, Al Quds (Jerusalem) had likewise become part of the Palestinian nationalist mantra.  Palestinian aspirations were not just for an independent Palestinian state but rather an independent Palestinian state “with Jerusalem as its capital.”[8]




On the strange mindset of Palestinians:


Beyond…tactical considerations lay a particular Palestinian mind-set.  From their point of view, all of historic Palestine was rightfully theirs and had been taken away from them by force.  In accepting Security Council Resolution 242, they had explicitly recognized Israel’s right to control 78 percent of the territories of the Palestine Mandate.  Now they argued it was unfair to be expected to bargain over the 22 percent that encompassed the West Bank and Gaza.[9]




On the unreasonableness of Palestinians during negotiations:


Palestinians had again refused to respond on the West Bank territorial issue except to insist on equal territorial swaps.[10]




On the excessive generosity of Israelis during negotiations:


Personally, I considered Barak’s offer a mistake; he was going too far, too fast.[11]




On the source and motive of American policy in the Middle East:


Providence has infused Americans with a generosity of spirit that finds expression in their desire to spread their good fortune to others and to believe that others will want to receive it as openly as they give it.[12]




Indyk also offers these keen insights into Middle East diplomacy:


Presidents need to expect the unexpected.[13]


Timing is vital.  The president must be prepared to act immediately when an opportunity presents itself.[14]


A central lesson of Clinton’s experience in the Middle East is that everything is connected there.[15]









[1] Page 49.

[2] Page 49.

[3] Page 67.

[4] Page 133.

[5] Page 139.

[6] Page 164.

[7] Page 209.

[8] Page 299.

[9] Page 311.

[10] Page 312.

[11] Page 322.

[12] Page 392.

[13] Page 396.

[14] Page 397.

[15] Page 397.