Michael Doran GS '97, an assistant professor in the Near Eastern Studies (NES) department, is the Bush administration's pick to head the Israel-Palestine desk at the National Security Council, according to a report Tuesday.
Citing unnamed sources, JTA, a nonprofit Jewish news service, reported yesterday afternoon that the White House has chosen Doran to replace Elliot Abrams, who will be promoted to deputy national security advisor for global democratic strategy.
Doran, who in the past has done extensive consulting work for the federal government, declined to comment on the JTA report and White House officials did not return calls.
In interviews Tuesday evening, University faculty and Washington observers said that though they were aware of rumors surrounding a possible appointment, they were not aware that any decision had been made.
"Like everybody else, I've heard rumors," NES department chair Andras Hamori said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.
Established in 1947, the National Security Council is the president's principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters with senior advisors and cabinet officials. The Council also coordinates government policy among various federal departments and agencies.
Doran, who has taught a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict in past years, is regarded by his students as an excellent teacher even as his scholarship draws controversy — including here at Princeton — for its tough approach to Middle East issues.
Earlier this year, Doran became a lightning rod for conflict among some professors in the history and NES departments. The 'Prince' reported in December 2004 that two history professors said relations between the departments could be severely damaged if Doran were tenured.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Doran gained much public recognition for his work. A self-described "September-12th Republican," he has often been invited to comment by the news media as an expert on Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda and terrorism.
Doran, who may lose his prospects at tenure if he chose to leave the University, is an unsurprising pick for the Bush administration, according to area experts who spoke to the 'Prince.'
"I think he's somebody whose opinions are highly respected in this town," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank supportive of current U.S. foreign policy objectives in the region.
"He's a careful scholar and he's been prepared to say things based on scholarship that makes people in both parties uncomfortable," Clawson added. "That actually garners you respect. It shows you have deep understanding of the subject and that you're prepared to share the truth even when it's unpleasant to those hearing it."
Stephen Cohen, a scholar at the Israel Policy Forum, a group that encourages an active U.S. diplomatic role in seeking peace in the region, said Doran would be a "good person" and "an appropriate person to be appointed by this administration."
In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Doran supported the Bush administration's focus on Saddam Hussein over resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Though the dispute is central to the symbolism of Arab politics, it is actually marginal in substance, Doran argued in an article in Foreign Affairs.
"The United States must indeed help address the festering wound of Arab-Israeli conflict," Doran wrote in January 2003. "But those who say that it should be tackled before or instead of Iraq and al-Qaeda have their strategic priorities backward."
At the same time, Doran has been openly skeptical of the Middle East road map for peace.
"We're off to a slow start," he said in July 2003 during a Council of Foreign Relations conference call for U.S. editorial-page editors. "There's some room for optimism and there's a lot of room for pessimism. I characterize myself as a qualified pessimist because there's a fundamental flaw in the road map that was also the fundamental flaw of [the] Oslo [peace plan]."
The possible choice of an academic for a policy post in the Bush White House is an interesting development, Clawson said.
"Let's recognize that this administration badly needs to have more expertise working on the region could use some of the first-rate people coming from academia," he said. "The very idea that Mr. Doran's name is being floated to work on such a sensitive issue should be welcomed by those who want to see a greater interconnectedness between the academic world and policymaking."
"And pardon my saying this," Clawson added, "there aren't many people who are well-respected in both worlds."