Aaron David Miller likens his role in Middle Eastern affairs to Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby. He is not the story’s central focus, but he plays a pivotal role in plot development, with great passion for the outcome.
Miller makes this comparison in The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace, his book discussing America’s successes and failures in Arab-Israeli diplomacy throughout the last 40 years.
He worked within the U.S. Department of State for 24 years, spending part of that time as an adviser to multiple secretaries of state, formulating U.S. policy on the Middle East and on the Arab-Israeli peace process. Miller is the vice president for new initiatives and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
In a lecture series spanning five days, Miller will offer a mini-course on the relationship between America and the Middle East. His first lecture, today at 2 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy, will compare and contrast American perceptions of the Middle East with the realities he’s observed throughout his career.
“Giving one 30 to 45 minute presentation on the Arab-Israeli issue is hardly enough,” Miller said. He wants to provide the audience with “a critical understanding of the challenges facing the United States.” He will also discuss the options for creating a more secure, prosperous Middle East and how the U.S. can protect its own interests in the process.
In an April 16, 2013, article on Foreign Policy’s website, titled “How Geography Explains the United States,” Miller wrote that America’s worldview relates back to three things: Canadians, Mexicans and fish.
“That trio of neighbors has given the United States an unprecedented degree of security, a huge margin for error in international affairs, and the luxury of largely unfettered development,” he wrote.
But Americans don’t understand their circumstance to be unique, and they grow frustrated when other nations don’t share their optimism. It’s endearing, Miller wrote, but naïve.
“This annoying tendency to see the world as they want it, rather than how it really is, can get [Americans] into real trouble,” he wrote.
When he was actually involved with government, Miller said, he was quite skeptical about the possibility of peace in the region. Now, though, he is a believer.
“As a historian and intelligence analyst, I dealt in probabilities, not possibilities,” he said. “As a diplomat, I dealt in possibilities. And now I’m back with a prominent role in the public conversation on these issues, and I’m back to my roles as an analyst.”
Miller has also served as the State Department’s deputy special Middle East coordinator for Arab-Israeli negotiation, senior member of the policy planning staff in the Bureau of Intelligence and in the Office of the Historian.
The rest of his lectures this week, all at 2 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy, will focus on subjects such as the Arab Spring, outliers of the Middle East, Hamas and Hezbollah and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“These are the critical issues facing America today,” Miller said.