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Career diplomat Barbara Bodine spent 34 years measuring her words while working in some of the most volatile areas of the Middle East. Now, the new visiting scholar at MIT's Center for International Studies is speaking out about U.S. policies, plans and missteps.
"We have a habit of looking at what's going on in the Middle East through the lens of implacable Islamic hostility," said Bodine, who left government service in 2004. "At the far end it's Osama bin Laden and violent jihadis. But there's also the kind of sense that even the good guys in the Middle East are hostile to our values, our norms, our way of life."
Bodine has firsthand knowledge of both the "good guys" and the "bad guys." In 1990, she was deputy chief of mission in Kuwait when Iraq invaded; she and other U.S. diplomats were held hostage for five months. She was ambassador to Yemen when the USS Cole was attacked in 2000. And, she worked briefly in Baghdad in 2003 after Saddam Hussein's fall -- until she was sent home as part of a shake-up.
At CIS, Bodine will counsel students, participate in high-level conferences and research post-conflict political construction and Middle East governance. She was named a visiting scholar on May 1.
She said she is not used to speaking openly, yet she aims with both barrels at current administration policies.
Take President Bush's recent trip to Iraq. "This fly-in visit to Baghdad is one of the most insulting steps I have ever seen us take," Bodine said. "When was the last time the president of the United States just got on a plane and dropped in on a country? Where else would you do this? You wouldn't. You wouldn't do this to France. You wouldn't do it to Japan. You wouldn't do it to Egypt and Saudi Arabia for that matter."
The visit --"the fact that we can just sort of appear and that we haven't bothered to tell the president of the country that we were coming" -- told Iraqis they were not really in charge, she said.
To understand the Middle East, MIT students need to reject a biased "prism" that views Islam as medieval and inflexible and equates "Islamic law" with "Taliban," she said.ï¿½ï¿½Bodine said she is appalled that suicides at the Guantanamo Bay prison were deemed acts of war. "Have you demonized these people so much they can't even commit suicide without being called a terrorist?" she said.