New Perspectives on the Mideast
Dr. John Duke Anthony Brought 50 Years of Experience and Observation to His VMI Classroom
Lexington, Va., Dec. 17, 2012 – The perspective at VMI has changed much since Dean’s Visiting Chair in International Studies and Political Science Dr. John Duke Anthony ’62 graduated. Both he and his classmate, Superintendent Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, spent substantial portions of their careers in the Arab region of the world, a region that was given little emphasis during their cadetships.
“None of … us had any exposure to the culture, people, economics, or politics of the region when we were here as cadets,” said Anthony, who has brought 50 years of experience and observation to the course he’s teaching this semester, Politics of the Arabian Peninsula.
And the cadets in the class, majors in an international studies department that has existed only since 1997, devote three hours every Friday afternoon to soaking up the unique insights Anthony brings to the department.
“The coolest thing about the class is that he knows so much about the culture because he’s lived there,” said Cadet Kimberly Gragg ’13. Gragg, an IS-Arabic double major pursuing the new national security minor, should know, as she has taken advantage of every opportunity offered by VMI’s programs: study abroad in England and Morocco, an internship at the Marine Corps University, and networking opportunities with the Defense Intelligence Agency through the minor.
“He [Anthony] understands the way that Islamism is so important to these people, the way that tribal ties are so important to these people,” said Gragg. “He really emphasizes to be empathetic with these people and to completely disregard any stereotypes we have. He gives us a lot of stuff you can’t find in a textbook.”
After graduating from VMI, Anthony spent the next two years in the Arab region (“Nobody was doing that,” noted IS department head Col. Jim Hentz.)
He’d had a choice of three countries offered by an international exchange program. He chose Egypt and stayed with a family there.
“I was smitten,” said Anthony, noting that the experience was also a “massive culture shock.”
The next year he led a group of undergraduates to Iran as part of the same program, the beginning of a lifetime of service in and regarding the region: Currently the founding president and chief executive officer of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, he has for more than 35 years been a consultant and regular lecturer on the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf for the U.S. departments of Defense and State. A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations since 1986, he has also been an adjunct faculty member of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Institute for Security Assistance Management since 1974 and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies since 2006.
Anthony said he is an empiricist, not a theorist. Everything he writes and teaches is based on the reality he has experienced. He offers the cadets knowledge and understanding that they are not likely to get from the media, books, and other academic curricula. The Arab countries, the Middle East, and the Islamic world have been for Anthony like “a university from which there is no possibility of graduating.”
Among the views he offered cadets: That the single biggest obstacle to vastly improved American relations in the region is the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict, which includes Syria; and that the U.S. has used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council more than 40 times since 1970, many of which vetoes, he maintains, effectively aborted the democratic process of the Council and served to block the upholding of international law as it pertains to Israeli’s occupation of areas including two-thirds of Syria’s Golan province.
“What makes anti-Americanism deeper and more widespread,” explained Anthony, “is that we talk more than any people in the world about the values of democracy. … The U.S. is seen by others as the No. 1 aborter of the process. You don’t find that in the newspapers.”
He spoke also about the number of Iraqis killed or displaced during the war in Iraq, and of Syria’s initiative to feed in past years and house more than a million of the refugees. Only 30,000 have been offered shelter in the United States.
“We’re missing a piece, as far as the truth in this,” he said.
Anthony acknowledged the challenge cadets face in his class, which requires weekly critiques of the reading, class discussion in which the questions often expose cadets’ lack of knowledge, and a term paper (choice of 100 topics).
“Learning something is difficult enough, but unlearning something is more difficult because it’s emotions – to be wrong all these years,” said Anthony. Yet knowledge is related to power. “There’s no shortcut but to study … as intensively as possible. … The soft underbelly of unacceptable policy is public attitude. The key to public attitude is factual knowledge, insight, and understanding” – precisely what he has offered to cadets this semester.
– Sherri Tombarge