Marc Lynch

Why an Aardvark?

Why an Aardvark?

The editorial team has asked me to post a brief introduction for those readers not already familiar with Abu Aardvark. I am an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, based in the Elliott School of International Affairs. I teach courses on Middle East politics and international relations theory, co-direct the new Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communications, and beginning next year will be the Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies. My most recent book is Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today, and I’m currently writing a book about Islamist movements in the Arab world. In the interest of full disclosure, I also did some policy work for the Obama campaign (and scrupulously avoided blogging about anything on which I was working, against all blogger CW); I have no role on the transition.

I started my Abu Aardvark blog way back in the dark ages of the fall of 2002, as an untenured assistant professor at Williams College writing under a pseudonym. Why an aardvark? Well, staring at a blank Blogger registration page way back in 2002, I had no idea that six and a half years later I would still be doing this and so I didn’t actually give much thought to the choice. I just went with "aardvark" because of my longtime devotion to Dave Sim’s 300-issue comic book epic Cerebus the Aardvark. The name stuck.

It remained a (thinly disguised) pseudonymous blog until the spring of 2005, when I quietly began blogging under my own name (ironically, during an online debate with my new Foreign Policy colleague Dan Drezner). Since then I’ve been exploring the boundaries between blogging and academic research, and between blogging and policy work, on a daily basis. It’s pretty amazing that I now almost always find myself introduced as "Abu Aardvark" whether I’m speaking to an academic seminar at Princeton with Bernard Lewis nodding along or to a CENTCOM assessment team. Brave new world. 

What to expect from this blog? My writing on Middle East politics tends follow my core research interests, and thus to cluster around a few core places (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, the GCC states) and a few dominant themes: 

  • Arab media and public opinion. I write a lot about Arab satellite television, from al-Jazeera and its political competitors to religious broadcasting and entertainment programming. I also have written extensively about Arab political blogging, internet forums, and other forms of mediated political communication. Finally, I write a lot about Arab public opinion in all its forms, from media discourse through survey research and activism.
  • Islamist movements. I devote a lot of attention to Islamist movements of all stripes, including but not limited to the al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. I’ve tracked their escalating competition over the last few years, and the evolution of their arguments over doctrine, organization and strategy. I’m writing a book about the relationships among these various movements, where they compete and where they intentionally or unintentionally support each other.
  • Public diplomacy. I’ve been deeply involved in the debates over public diplomacy and the so-called "war of ideas" ever since my 2003 Foreign Affairs article on Arab public opinion. I was one of the earliest critics of the U.S. government’s Arabic-language satellite TV station Alhurra [sic], and I write often about the encroachment of "strategic communications" concepts and practices upon the public diplomacy sector.
  • Iraq. I’ve been deeply engaged in the policy debate over Iraq, with a particular focus on intra-Sunni politics. I’ve been skeptical of the long-term impact of the "surge" (strategy vs. tactics was how I framed it), and have consistently warned of the deep fragility and fragmentation of Iraqi politics. That doesn’t mean that the United States should postpone the drawdown of its military forces in Iraq, though, since that will only postpone the resolution of the problems
  • Arab democratization. I firmly believe that the United States should support democratizing trends in the Arab world, despite the hash the Bush administration has made of it. I write a lot about the efforts of Arab political activists of all stripes and how the United States might better support their struggles while being realistic about the balance of forces and Arab political activists.

Expect that I will write about all of those themes on a regular basis. At this new blog, I’ll more often take on other major issues — like the current Israeli attack on Gaza — as they arise. I also provide a daily digest of the most interesting and relevant commentary and news on the topics that interest me — mostly from the Arab media, with links for those who read Arabic and brief synopses for those who don’t (see the right sidebar). And now, enough about me — on to the Middle East.