WASHINGTON (May. 11)
A Middle East expert from Princeton University is expected to be named to the staff of the National Security Council, JTA has learned. Michael Doran is considered a democratic reformist and closely aligned with the thinking of many in the White House, including the man he will replace, Elliott Abrams, who was promoted earlier this year to deputy national security adviser for global democratic strategy.
A protege of Bernard Lewis, a pre-eminent Middle East historian whose views on tyranny in the Arab world are favored by the Bush administration, Doran has raised some eyebrows at Princeton. His main thesis in many journal articles has been that the Arab world must focus on issues other than Israel.
Doran could not be reached for comment, and the White House does not comment on appointments before they are announced.
It’s unclear exactly what position he will take at the National Security Council, although he is well versed in Persian Gulf affairs and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abrams served as the senior director for Near East and North African Affairs.
In recent years Doran has written several articles in Foreign Affairs defending the Bush administration’s choice to invade Iraq and work to democratize the Middle East.
“He has really good insight into domestic Arab politics and interstate relations in the Middle East, an especially good hold on Saudi politics and Gulf politics,” said Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Doran’s appointment suggests that the White House will maintain its emphasis on encouraging Arab states to become more open and pluralistic.
“Given the administration’s emphasis on political reform in Arab countries and the promotion of democracy in Arab countries, Mike would be especially valuable in trying to translate that objective into the Arab world,” Satloff said.
Some argue that the hiring of a little-known academic also suggests that Abrams will remain active in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his new post.
Doran has been a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton since 1999. He has drawn controversy at the school for advocating democratic reform in the Middle East and is not yet tenured.
In a National Review Online article in March, Doran was described as a “rising star,” but the article focused on criticism from some graduate students and history professors at the school who consider Doran too politically conservative.
Doran recently told Inside Higher Education that the field of Middle East studies is divided over the question of what went wrong in the Arab world.
“And the field is divided between those who say what went wrong was Western imperialism and Zionism, and those who think indigenous factors more than the policies of the great powers are responsible for what went wrong,” he said. “I’m in the latter group.”
He was offered the position of director of Brandeis University’s new Center for Middle East Studies last year, but turned it down to remain at Princeton.
“He truly understands the Middle East differently than most of the Arabists do,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis, who led the school’s search committee. Sarna said he was impressed that a non-Jewish man spoke fluent Hebrew and Arabic and started each day by viewing Hamas’ Web site.
“Precisely because he comes from a different place, he is able to see the area from distinctive eyes, and I expect he will bring great creativity to the position,” Sarna said. “He is somebody who has both great scholarly credentials and great fearlessness.”
Doran previously served as a professor at the University of Central Florida. He wrote a study on the first Arab-Israeli war, “Pan-Arabism Before Nasser: Egyptian Power Politics and the Palestine Question.”
“He is very well educated on these matters, but he has a particular point of view,” said Stephen Cohen, a former visiting professor at Princeton, who is the Israel Policy Forum’s national scholar.
“He has argued that from the earliest days, the origin of the hostilities toward Israel had more to do with rivalries with the United States and Britain rather than a unified view against Israel,” Cohen said.
Cohen said Doran’s appointment shows the White House will continue to demand reforms from Arab states.
“It continues to choose to deal with experts on the Middle East who represent a perspective that is decidedly unsympathetic to Arab nationalism and does not accept the view of the centrality of hostility to Israel as a center of attitudes toward the United States,” Cohen said.