Some words of wisdom from a friend deep in U.S. officialdom. I had complained about the superficiality of some American approaches to the Arab revolts in the Mideast (continuing a theme of Dining with al-Qaeda), thus:
[There is] unjustified hoopla about the dynamics of the Arab spring … and then, when it turns out that it’s all much more complicated than it looked, then it’s uh-oh, Arab winter again, and consign the region back to the dump with weary self-righteous sighs.
To which my friend replied from Washington, DC:
“On the simplicity of the Mideast coverage, you are certainly right descriptively. In my view, though these simplistic narratives aren’t a result of not understanding the dynamics that you mention. People are, for example, very aware that the all of the emerging “Arab Spring” governments will, at best, be problematic partners for the US. It is rather an effort to create reality by insisting that it is so—and people will certainly continue to do so until it becomes so dramatically at variance with reality that they exercise a 180 degree and express with equal confidence the exact opposite (i.e. Arab Winter). There is a general feeling in DC that public expressions of nuance, however accurate, are not useful, demonstrate uncertainty and hesitation, and are doomed to misinterpretation. I’m not sure if this should make you feel better or worse. It means there is more understanding than you imagine, but also that education will not cure the problem.”
Since he’s in Turkey and I’m not, I invited him to answer a few questions by e-mail and he not only did, but suffered a few follow-ups as well.
Pope has left journalism (but not writing) to work at the International Crisis Group, a group that studies areas of conflict and possible conflict, writes reports, and suggests solutions. He specializes in Turkey and the surrounding area.
Pope says that the work of the Crisis Group is intended more for policy makers than for travelers but are frequently used as background by reporters. The reports are free, and, he says, “Our take on situations is known to be (as far as is humanly possible) evidence-based, non-ideological, neutral, comprehensive, and long-lasting, being the product of meticulous field work and including interviews with all sides. Crisis Group hopes that by filling this information gap – backed by energetic advocacy with governments and opinion-makers based on our reports – warring parties will see new ways out of their conflict. It’s amazing how often people in conflict don’t listen to each other and misjudge each other’s intentions.”
As I noted in my review of Dining with Al Qaeda, Pope tried hard to see all sides when he was reporting.
“Working for International Crisis Group is everything I wanted journalism to be, but never quite was,” he says. “In media reporting, especially from remoter and less important parts of the world, a journalist is under pressure to frame the issue in an attractive and compelling ‘story’ – often a tall order on a short trip. In a Crisis Group report I can say exactly what I think the situation or problem is, without having the need to dramatize the narrative or dress it in a character-led story.” But he adds that his 25 years of experience reporting from 30 countries contributes to his present work.
Because of his book title, I searched the Internet for his reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden, and came up empty handed. In fact, he told me … (read full interview here)