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Mideast in turmoil

May 1, 2007 |  3:32 pm


May 1, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0501_neumann In early 1957, Robert G. Neumann, associate professor of political science at UCLA, took a six-week tour of the Middle East arranged by The Times that resulted in a series of articles and an April 30, 1957, speech given as the William Henry Snyder Lecture at Los Angeles City College.

Historians are often criticized as assuming that anything covered with dust is significant, and rightly so. What on earth could we learn today from something written half a century ago by some UCLA professor, especially about a region as volatile as the Mideast?

But before we get to the message, who's the messenger?

Neumann, an Austrian who was held in a Nazi concentration camp for his political activities, was a UCLA professor who wrote frequently about world events for The Times, which in that era had an extremely limited foreign staff.

He headed the UCLA Institute of International and Foreign Studies and was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Morocco. His brief term as envoy to Saudi Arabia ended abruptly in 1981 after a clash with President Reagan's secretary of State, Alexander Haig.

According to The Times: "Neumann believed that his boss was being too soft on Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin by refusing to say that the Reagan administration's delay in shipping F-16 fighter planes to Israel was punishment for its recent raid on Beirut."

Now for Neumann's message. What did he have to say about the Middle East 50 years ago? You might expect some quaint observations. You would be wrong. His remarks are painfully familiar.

The Times notes: "A peaceful answer to the turbulent Middle East situation must lie in a five-point program of compromise and trust, and that won't be easy."

  1.     Arab states must accept existence of Israel as an integral part of the area.  
  2.     Israel must accept principal responsibility for the return, resettlement or compensation of refugees.  
  3.     Both sides must recognize that fear of aggression is mutual and genuine.  
  4.     Arab leaders must realize that their frequent blood-curdling statements render a poor service to their cause.  
  5.     Israel must recognize that as long as there is worldwide agitation for Jewish immigration into Palestine, Arab fears of Israel's aggrandizement will persist.

Neumann died in 1999 after serving as senior associate at Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies. His son Ronald is currently U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Neumann's obituary lists the following principles, taken from his entry in Who's Who in America:

  "1. When in doubt, choose the road of courage. The dynamics of action will carry others with you and confound your opponents.

  "2. While action must be carefully considered, it is generally better to act than not to act. It is easier to correct the course of action than to move from inaction to action.

  "3. Dream big and without restraint. There will always be time afterwards to reduce the scope of your action in the light of confining realities. But if you start dreaming small, you shackle your imagination from the outset.

  "4. Have some reasonable and constant ideas as to what you will not put up with and examine your conscience from time to time to check the possible corrosion success might have wrought. It might keep you honest, or at least humble."

  Bonus facts:

First mention of Yasser Arafat by a staff writer in The Times: 1968
First mention of Saddam Hussein by a staff writer in The Times: 1970
First mention of Osama bin Laden by a staff writer in The Times: 1997
First mention of Al Qaeda by a staff writer in The Times: 2000

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