Monday, May 25, 2009

Reading Beyond the Lines

Political Science, and in particular international relations, can be a dodgy subject because practitioners often deal in documents or sources that are less than reliable. These then get picked up by other sources and after a few references are so lost in the chain of evidence that few people think to question their legitimacy.

For example, just reading a story on Syria from the JPost that includes the following "citations":

"Syria's actions are evidence of the reality of a Middle East Cold War"

Anytime someone uses the word "reality" in close proximity to some incredibly complex historical phenomenon like "Cold War" that's being transferred to a different regional and temporal context it makes me a little skeptical

The rest of the article contains the following appeals to evidence, without citation or significant elaboration. All these are meant as condemnations of the Obama Administration's recent efforts to engage with Syria, but when compared to the policies/practices of other countries in the region (esp. US allies like Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) they just read like hypocritical exercises in shaping the opinions of policy-makers and issue publics.

"it is well known" (regarding the domiciling of Hamas and IJ leaders in Damascus, which is true, but to suggest that allowing Khalid Meshaal to reside in Damascus somehow makes Syria unfit for engagement is ridiculous)

"reports have surfaced" (on Syrian construction of a biological weapons facility)

"It is known" (about Syrian stockpiles of the nerve agent sarin)

"It is thought by Western governments" (about a biological warfare program)

"the latest news is that" (about Damascus 'recommencing' its practice of facilitating the entry of 'Sunni jihadi fighters into Iraq' - which I'm guessing is coming from the NYTimes article a few weeks ago, except that the intel sources cited in the article didn't suggest that the Syrian authorities were facilitating the movement, just that it was increasing)

If this is what passes for hard evidence we are all in a lot of trouble.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

would u be interested in writin for a middleastern private newspaper?