Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Unsolicited Middle East advice for the new president

A number of scholars of the Middle East came together last September to pay tribute to a departed friend, Louis J. Cantori. A collection of short papers were presented in Lou's honor at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, which met in Washington in early September. What follows is the introduction to the papers, which now comprise an article in Winter 2008 issue of Middle East Policy. The complete article is available here. The contributors include Bahman Baktiari, Eva Bellin, Eric Davis, Michael Hudson, and Kristin Smith Diwan.

A quarter century ago, about the time that the Middle East Policy Council was created, little serious attention was paid to the Middle East at the annual meetings of the leading disciplinary associations, including the American Political Science Association (APSA). Professor Louis J. Cantori and a small group of colleagues, including this writer, decided in 1983 to create the Conference Group the Middle East (CGME), which convened for the first time in 1984. Just a few months ago, the group convened for the twenty-fourth time in conjunction with the national meeting of APSA in Boston. From the start, it was Lou who cheerfully assumed the leadership of the group, as well as the administrative burden of organizing the annual meeting.

Over the years, the CGME provided a forum for several dozen younger scholars the Middle East, who, thanks to the support of the Ford Foundation, often gained the opportunity to participate in their first U.S. meeting. The CGME focused on myriad themes, including U.S. foreign policy in the region, Islam and politics, the domestic determinants of foreign policy in Middle Eastern states, women and politics, and the prospects for political reform.

Several of the annual meetings inspired collections of articles in this journal and several other respected periodicals. This year, the CGME invited participants to offer advice to the next president and the resulting pieces follow.

Sadly, Lou Cantori was not in the room when the group convened. With his customary humor and courage, Lou confronted a degenerative disease that took far longer to complete its grim course than the best doctors predicted. Lou finally succumbed on May 12, 2008, after a rich academic career that included studies at al-Azhar University in Cairo and professorships at UCLA and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

Lou had been a Marine, and, while he was often deeply critical of U.S. security policies, he loved the customs and traditions of the military. He served for a year in the 1980s on the West Point faculty as a visiting professor. Then, as though he had won a soldier-scholar trifecta, he went on to visiting appointments at the Air Force Academy and the USMC Command and Staff College at Quantico, where he savored the idea of Sergeant Cantori lecturing to large audiences of bright field-grade officers from the Corps.

Lou was a generous man in every respect. All who knew him will always remember his compassion and his endearing, hearty laugh. Anyone who had been around the field of Middle East studies knew that laugh, which came from some special place deep inside him; it was his fingerprint. We know that Lou would have appreciated the articles that follow, and they are dedicated to his memory. It is fitting that they appear in Middle East Policy, since he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Council.

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