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April 15, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3773

Former Saudi Navy Commodore and U.S. Liaison Officer on British, U.S. Think Tanks: 'Do The Analysts Even Speak Arabic?... It Is Like Having Someone from Tasmania, Australia Being Tasked With Writing About Washington D.C. Politics - Without Setting Foot Near the Washington Monument'

April 15, 2011
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 3773

In a March 28, 2011 op-ed in the Saudi daily Arab News, titled "U.S. and British Think Tanks Failed To Think," former Royal Saudi Navy commodore and former Saudi Royal Navy liaison officer at Pensacola Naval Air Station (1991-95) Abdulateef Al-Mulhim expresses astonishment that crucial world events, such as "the breakup of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invasion of Kuwait, the terrorist attacks on 9/11... the Tunisian revolt, the Egyptian crisis and the Libyan upheaval... happened unnoticed or unpredicted by the think tanks." He asks whether the analysts "even speak Arabic," and adds: "It is like having someone from Tasmania, Australia being tasked with writing about Washington D.C. politics without setting foot near the Washington Monument."

The following is his op-ed, in the original English:[1]

"Major Events... Simply Happened Unnoticed or Unpredicted By the Think Tanks"

"The year was 1978.

"It was the beginning of the uprising against the Shah of Iran, but there was not a single think tank in the U.S. that even mentioned any possibility of a revolution in Iran. This is what opened my eyes to the futility of relying on the so-called think tanks for any guidance on global affairs

"One year later (1979), the Shah was deposed and Ayatollah Khomeini took over. And in September 1980, the think tank teams were again taken by surprise when war broke out between Iraq and Iran. It lasted eight years.

"After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, one of my American classmates suggested that I serve in a think tank. That was in 1989, during the 10th annual class reunion at SUNY Maritime College in New York. I told him there was no think tank in Saudi Arabia.

"After that, I read a lot of think tank reports. I have noticed that a lot of reports about Saudi Arabia were written by non-Saudis. When I read those reports I felt I was reading reports about a country in another planet. Yes, they were written in a beautiful way, but they were far from reality.

"The think tanks fail to notice even when there are a lot of visible signs of an approaching global crisis. There was the breakup of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invasion of Kuwait, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the 2003 American miscalculations in Iraq, the global economic crisis, the Tunisian revolt, the Egyptian crisis and the Libyan upheaval. These are examples of the major events that simply happened unnoticed or unpredicted by the think tanks."

"How Did a Well-Reputed Think Tank Like the IISS, With Its Branch In Manama... Fail To See the Fast-Changing Moods In a Very Small Island... Who Are the Analysts... Do They [Even] Speak Arabic?"

"A few months ago, I saw an announcement in one of the Saudi newspapers about the opening of a branch in Bahrain of a respected think tank called The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). They needed an analyst. Due to the fact that Saudi Arabia is not only the center of gravity in the Gulf region, but in the whole world, I expected to see some Saudi names in their organization. I didn't see any. Later on, I saw one of their conferences on TV and heard some of the guests speak about the region and just turned off the television. A think tank conference is not a Marriott hotel public relations gathering. There were too many smiles during the IISS Manama conference and very few educated analyses.

"I wish I were part of their team, because, even with my humble knowledge, I was feeling the smell of demonstrations in the Bahraini air. When I saw tragic events unfold in Bahrain, I asked myself: How did a well-reputed think tank like the International Institute for Strategic Studies with its branch in Manama which is located less than one mile from Pearl Square fail to see the fast-changing moods in a very small island? They didn't even know there is a country called Oman. The events and minor riots in Oman were not to be seen anywhere in their reports or analyses. Who are the analysts at the IISS stationed in Bahrain? Do they [even] speak Arabic? Do they have any previous experiences of the Middle East? Are they people belonging to the elite who were hired because of whom they know rather than what they know?

Although Saudi Arabia Is One Of "The Most Written-About Topics in The British Think Tank Reports... I Have Never Seen... Any Saudi Analyst" Authoring One; This Is Like "Someone From Tasmania, Australia Being Tasked With Writing About Washington D.C. Politics"

"Some years ago, I happened to read some reports about Saudi Arabia and the Saudi royal family written by some British think tanks, and I just couldn't stop myself from laughing. If I didn't see the words Saudi Arabia, I would have thought they were talking about an African country that was just emerging after a protracted civil war.

"Saudi Arabia and the Saudi royal family are the most written-about topics in the British think tank reports. Yet I have never seen any report about any Saudi analyst participating in the writing of such reports. Some of the analysts had never been to Saudi Arabia and some of them were in Saudi Arabia for a very brief period of time. It is like having someone from Tasmania, Australia being tasked with writing about Washington D.C. politics without setting a foot near the Washington Monument.

"The think tank reports are written by people who are very professional writers – people who have the ability to put words together in a very beautiful way. I sure hope they don't charge any money for their analysis or reports.

"Now, when I need to evaluate events in the world, I just read the American and British think tank reports backward. Then they would make some sense."

Endnotes:

[1] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), March 28, 2011. The English has been lightly edited for clarity.

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