Amr Moussa, the Arab League's Utterly Predictable Leader

As James Fallows has noted, who could have guessed that Amr Moussa and the braver-than-brave Arab League might now have doubts about military action against Libya? Well, just about anyone who has ever dealt with the Arab League. Does anyone believe that the Arab League, whose members include Bashar al-Assad, the Saud family, Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, Muammar Qaddafi (now suspended for non-payment of dues and an overly-gauche defense of his regime) and until a few weeks ago Tunisia's Ben Ali and Egypt's Mubarak, is a force for progressive politics and humanitarianism? That it would ever stand with the West when it was uncomfortable to stand with the West?

One quick Amr Moussa story: In October of 2000, I visited him at the headquarters of the Arab League on Tahrir Square, during an emergency Arab League summit called to protest the Israeli response to the second Palestinian uprising. This was a moment in which Arab leaders and clerics were endorsing suicide bombing as a legitimate response to Israeli repression. (It wasn't the first time Arab leaders had endorsed suicide bombing against Jewish targets, just the latest).During this mostly forgettable interview, I asked Moussa if he thought the widespread endorsement of suicide bombing might come back to haunt the members of the Arab League. I laid out the idea (not my own, I if I recall correctly) that terrorists would one day use a tactic currently reserved for use against Jews against non-Jewish, and even Muslim targets; it was a simple slippery-slope, Pandora's box sort of argument.

Moussa, according to my notes of the conversation, was adamant that no, suicide terrorism would not become widespread. "The circumstances of the Israeli occupation are unique in the world," he said. "The cruelty has no parallels." In any case, he said, Muslim leaders "have made it very clear that this form of resistance is to be used only as an absolute last resort."

A year later, of course, suicide terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. And since then, Muslim suicide terrorists have made their primary targets other Muslims, most notably in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I tell this story only to illustrate the point that Amr Moussa lacks many of the qualities one would like to have in an ally.   

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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