The Corner


Middle East Studies

A girl displaced from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah looks from behind a door of her family shelter in Sanaa, Yemen, July 18, 2018. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters)

About the Middle East, there are many, many questions — and Michael Rubin has the answers. Indeed, he can give you a number of possible answers, to aid in your overall understanding. He is my guest on Q&A, here.

Rubin has held many jobs, many positions, over the years. He has worked at the Defense Department. He has edited journals. For some years, he has been a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He has three degrees from Yale, the last of which is a Ph.D. in history.

His dissertation, he tells me, was about the introduction of the telegraph to Iran. The book is about 600 pages, I believe. No one has ever gone beyond page 17, says Michael — he stuck a 50-dollar bill in that book that is, evidently, still there.

(This information may set off a money scramble in New Haven.)

Michael grew up in Philadelphia, in a family of veterinarians. He himself was allergic to cats and dogs. The “black sheep of the family,” he says, he became a historian. Why the Middle East, by the way? Well, for one thing, he came of age during the Iranian hostage crisis. (I understand, because I did too.)

In our Q&A, we talk about the Middle East — or rather, I ask him to talk about various countries and situations. Syria. Who are the players? What will the departure of Americans do? What about Afghanistan? Should we stay or not? What about the Soviets in Afghanistan? Is there any truth to what President Trump recently said? What about Saudi Arabia and the Khashoggi murder? What about the war in Yemen? (Rubin once lived in that country, incidentally.) What about Iran and its bomb? Isn’t it remarkable that they don’t have it already? What about Libya? Is the country worse off with Qaddafi gone?

And so on and so forth. At the very end of our conversation, Rubin talks about terrorism. What the world needs, he says, is a proper definition of it. And he gives one — a good and simple one: “the deliberate targeting of civilians for political gain.”

Michael Rubin provides lessons in Middle East Studies, free of charge. Again, here.

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