Barry Rubin remembered for pursuit of truth

Barry Rubin remembered for pursuit of truth

Abby Wisse Schachter
Abby Wisse Schachter

“The key question for us is what kind of breakout time we can accept,” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

The unnamed source quoted in this week’s Reuter’s story is referring to the acknowledged fact that the United States has decided it can’t stop Iran so it is instead negotiating, along with five other Western powers, to contain its nuclear program. Reading this acknowledgement reminded me once again of the loss we suffered with the death on Feb. 5 of Barry Rubin.

Rubin, a political scientist, a terrific analytic mind, a father, a husband and a fierce, clear-headed defender of Israel, would have been all over this admission.

Indeed, Rubin had taken the measure of President Obama and the renewed negotiations earlier this year and found them both wanting.

“[R]evolutionary Islamists do not make concessions. That is not the way they bargain,” Rubin wrote in January. “Islamist Iran will never stop seeking nuclear weapons; it will be patient about it. The real danger to the Iranian regime is economic collapse from sanctions, and the potential gain would be for Iran to achieve its true ambitions — mainly, a Shi’a bloc made of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq; and the destruction of Israel, which won’t work.”

And as for the Obama administration, Rubin was disappointed in its failure to clearly understand Middle East politics. But he was great at explaining this administration’s self-interested motivations. “I hate to say it, but it is almost as if the Obama administration just wants to keep the supposed [Iran] ‘deal’ alive until after the 2014 elections. It wants to be able to say, ‘Do you see what a great diplomatic triumph we achieved in the Middle East, resolving all problems?’ only then to let the deal collapse. This is of course the reason President Obama said there is only a 50-50 chance with the Iran deal. Usually, the president and secretary of state do not talk about the certainty of deals before they are much closer to being completed.”

Upon his death, former colleagues and friends eulogized him and his impact. “Barry was a brilliant scholar who was passionately committed to the pursuit of truth,” wrote Robert Satloff, the Washington Institute’s executive director. “He brought this determination to his fight against cancer. His death is a loss to the broader community of Middle East scholars.”

Rubin wasn’t just focused on Iran or Israel, however. He covered the gamut of Middle East politics and personalities. “If you want to understand Arab and Muslim politics,” he explained recently, “read Constantine Zurayk’s article published shortly after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Zurayk was a frustrated Arab moderate trying to understand how Middle East politics worked. He realized that as long as Israel was only perceived as a high mountain to Arab ambitions, Israel would always stand in the way of Arab political development. When Zionism or Israel is made to be the focus, this conflict will justify all Arab and Muslim anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, anti-Western, anti-American sentiments. … His message was not Israel as the central problem, but Arabs as the central problem.”

Rubin was always trying to explain that “central problem” to whatever question he was answering.

I knew him by reputation and writings for years but met him only once, when he came to Pittsburgh and we gave a joint talk about Iran. It was a lively evening with Rubin engaging both me and the audience to raise our understanding of what was most important, what was really going on, what was the central problem. He insisted that we not lose focus and not lose heart. I so appreciated that. I also especially enjoyed the meal we shared earlier in the evening and our conversation about Indian food. Rubin explained that he always ordered the same eggplant dish — bharta — to find the very best version.

In honor of his passing, I’m committed to learning to make that dish and to remaining vigilant and focused on supporting Israel and advocating for a free and democratic broader Middle East.

May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion. May his memory be for a blessing and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

(Abby W. Schachter, a Pittsburgh resident, is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and blogs about the intersection of government policy and parenting at