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06 10 03 - Dekmejian's larger message is that American foreign policymakers
LA Times October 1, 2006 - Steve Lopez: Points West
Professor's Prophecy of Doom Fulfilled
(From A. Melikian. USA)
Professor Richard Dekmejian, a pint-sized and bespectacled scholar barely able to see over the top of the research materials piled on his desk at USC, is delivering a good scolding from behind his bunker.

He's got nothing but backhands for President Bush, the neo-cons, the Democratic pushovers and the average Joe and Jane. All of them were such fools, he said, to have expected the war in Iraq to produce anything but chaos, death and resentment.
The subject that had Dekmejian in a lather was last week's report by 16 United States intelligence agencies, which concluded that the war in Iraq has helped fuel the spread of terrorism around the world and shaped "a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives."

The Bush administration, testing the outer limits of its own creativity, countered by accusing the war's critics of mouthing "the enemy's propaganda."

The last time I checked in with Dekmejian, in 2004, he told me that the war was sure to be a terrorist recruitment tool for years to come. I dropped by last week to see if he was ready to take a bow for predicting the current disaster.

"One should not derive pleasure from predicting doom," he said.

Dekmejian, who teaches a class on terrorism and genocide, was neither insulted nor surprised by the president's spin. Given the cost of the war in both money and blood, not to mention the loss of respect around the world, what else would Bush do but stubbornly defend the mission and compare critics to traitors?

He also wasn't surprised by the report's findings. "It's elementary stuff," Dekmejian says of the conclusion that we've only multiplied our enemies and made ourselves less safe. "It's primitive stuff. No surprises. No secrets."

He's looking at me as if I were one of the fools who bought into the war, and he gives me no chance to remind him that he and I have been on the same page from the beginning.

"Our security agencies," he continues without coming up for air, "which we spend billions on, are telling us what was obvious three years ago. Anyone who reads a newspaper could have seen what kind of response this would have around the world."

The professor has one eye on the clock, because he's scheduled to lead a seminar on Middle East politics for PhD candidates. But the class is going to have to wait, because he's not done laying into his targets.

The U.S. is acting childishly, he says. "Not just the president, but the American people. They're children. They do not read. I don't even want to talk about their reading materials. They're corrupted by television and they cannot think causally."

Now he's onto a pet subject — the physics of conflict, and the inevitability of blowback for decades of crawling into bed with despots in pursuit of resources like oil.

"When somebody smashes somebody else in the face, there are several possibilities. You can be wiped out, but if you're not, there's a very, very high likelihood that you're not going to turn the other cheek."

I don't disagree, but I'm ready to throw my hands up, because I didn't drop in on Dekmejian to talk about how we got into this mess. I want to know how we get out of it.

"Steve, you're such a good American," he says. "You want solutions."

Who doesn't?

To be honest, Dekmejian doesn't have solutions that are politically workable any time soon.

Would he pull back our troops? Probably. And he'd have us focus more on problems at home rather than incurring the world's wrath through imperialist overreach. To cool off the terrorists, he adds, there'd have to be a two-state settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Of course, it's a little too easy to save the world from the comfort of a college campus on a sunny day, and much harder to put such wisdom to practical use. But Dekmejian's larger message is that American foreign policymakers need a greater understanding of cultural differences, the nature of conflict and the ways to stop escalating the blood feud between Islam and the West.


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