News Release

Obama SOTU Foreign Policy Myths


The following analysts are available for interviews:

DAVID SWANSON, davidcnswanson at, @davidcnswanson
Author of War is a Lie, Swanson is director of and campaign coordinator of He just wrote the piece “The Real State of the Union,” which examines various statements by President Obama in his State of the Union address, including “Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad” and “We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”

NAJAM HAIDER, nhaider74 at
Assistant professor of religion at Barnard College of Columbia University, Haider is currently a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. He is author of Shi’i Islam: An Introduction and The Origins of the Shī’a (both from Cambridge University Press). Today he said: “The myth of an entrenched and timeless conflict between the two sects dating back to the 7th century serves as an explanation for the current instability in the region. This idea is so entrenched in public discourse that the president channeled it in his State of the Union address. Speaking of the conflicts that rage across the region, Obama said, ‘The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.’ In reality, the historical relationship between these communities is significantly more complicated.

“The typical mode of interaction between Sunni and Shi‘i groups has historically involved pragmatic co-existence. This state of relative tolerance has been highlighted in a number of recent studies. In fact, the fallacy of the myth of perpetual sectarian divisions was most clearly exposed in recent history by the participation of many Shi‘i soldiers on the Iraqi side during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. In this and other cases, sectarian identity was trumped by other factors such as nationalism and tribal affiliation. The apparent growth of Sunni-Shi‘i tensions in the current Middle East stems from the general instability of the region coupled with a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In other words, the sectarian conflict is a product of political calculations as opposed to entrenched theological differences. The same factors produced the same results in a number of historical cases from Baghdad in the 10th century to the Ottoman-Safavid divide of the 16th-17th centuries.”

IYAD EL-BAGHDADI, iyad.elbaghdadi at, @iyad_elbaghdadi
El-Baghdadi is an entrepreneur, author, and activist most noted for his role in facilitating Arab uprisings. Now based in Norway, where he has received asylum, El-Baghdadi is currently in Malaysia. His Twitter account was briefly recently suspended, see BBC: “Twitter ‘confuses’ Iyad El-Baghdadi with Islamic State leader.” He sent out a series of tweets taking issue with Obama’s about current conflicts “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia”: “The current dynamic isn’t a conflict of sectarianism but a willful and cynical sectarianization of a regional power struggle.” See “Obama schooled on Twitter about Middle East history” from Al-Jazeera. Last month, El-Baghdadi wrote the piece “Saudi Arabia Is the Problem and Solution to Extremism” for the New York Times.