Arabists

Since the Second World War, the U.S. Foreign Service has benefited from the extraordinary area expertise and professionalism of a cadre of officers, often referred to as “Arabists,” serving in the countries of the Near East within the region of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).  Informed by deep knowledge of the history, politics and culture of the Arab world and often highly fluent in the Arabic language, their insights and cross-cultural skills have served as a rich resource for American diplomacy. 

Valuable though their reports from the field have been, the Arabists as a group have also been charged with “clientitis” – being too sympathetic to the views of their subjects – especially when their interlocutors represent despotic regimes, espouse extreme versions of Islam or express virulent anti-American or anti-Israel views.  Like the FSO “China hands” of World War II who described the growing strength of the Chinese Communists, the Arabists, while seeking to promote the national interests of the United States, have on occasion fallen prey to U.S. domestic political forces beyond their control – tainted by their reporting of unwelcome messages, by a popular image of elitist fascination with exotic and dangerous cultures, and by favoring policies out of favor in Washington.

pdfCurtis F. Jones, “The Education of an Arabist,” Foreign Service Journal, December 1982

bookKaplan, Robert.  The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite.  New York: The Free Press, 1993.

bookRugh, William A.  American Encounters with Arabs: The "Soft Power" of U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Middle East.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2005.

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