Ex-MEPC Chief Urges Middle East Analysts to Nix Political Correctness

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

By Middle East Policy

Celebration honors 40-year tenure of Anne Joyce as editor of quarterly journal. 

What is the purpose of an outlet like Middle East Policy in an era of lightning-quick, easily consumable information? “We have to find the authentic American voice to question everything because we are now being essentially manipulated by a combination of state-owned propaganda and social media,” Chas W. Freeman Jr., former ambassador to Saudi Arabia declared Thursday. “This is a great challenge.” 

Freeman presented this call to arms at a celebration of the career of Anne Joyce, the longtime editor of the journal, who has retired after 40 years with the Middle East Policy Council. The event brought together longtime supporters of the council and contributors to the journal, as well as current and former staffers and interns. 

Anne Joyce

“She is a fiercely independent woman and perfectionist,” said Helena Cobban of Just World Educational, the host of the ceremony, “but also warmhearted.” Cobban thanked Joyce for helping create a strategy for her nonprofit group. 

The participants hailed Joyce’s intelligence and fearlessness in the face of a sometimes hostile foreign-policy establishment in Washington. Bassima Alghussein, executive director of the Middle East Policy Council, praised the “incredible principled leadership and courage” of both Joyce and Freeman, who served as president of the council from 1997 to 2009.  

“In all respects it was Anne’s intellectual power that sat behind the editorial decisions,” said John Sandwick, who worked at the American-Arab Affairs Council (the organization’s former name) from 1984 to 1989. “The greatness of the journal is Anne’s achievement.” Sandwick, who has since earned a doctorate and runs an Islamic finance consulting business in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, credited her for teaching him how to write. 


A Passionate Voice on Regional Developments 

During her tenure, Joyce became known for her fiery editor’s notes, especially on issues surrounding peace in the region. These opinion pieces ran in the front of every journal from fall 1984, her first issue at the helm, through the end of 2020, when the notes were discontinued.  

In her 1984 writing—published as Ronald Reagan won re-election to serve as the oldest president in American history—Joyce cited signs of hope in the region and in US politics: “Elected officials … are becoming increasingly willing to violate a taboo and speak out in favor of the participation of the Palestinians, through the PLO, in negotiating their own destiny.” When The Washington Post excerpted her writing on its opinion page three years later, she still saw some possibilities. “There has been a shift in presuppositions,” Joyce observed, “to the point where it is not unthinkable for some progress to occur, at least in setting up a framework for a peace conference and a formula for Palestinian representation.” 

In her final editor’s note for the publication—written just after Joe Biden had won election to become the oldest US president ever—Joyce voiced pessimism, even as she noted some progress for the Trump administration’s signal achievement in the region, the Abraham Accords. “Gulf Arab states may also be leaning toward normalization, but the Palestinians have not been given so much as a token,” she lamented. “If the Palestinians are cheated, attaining real peace will become impossible.” 

Chas Freeman Jr.

Freeman recalled that from time to time he did ask Joyce to tone down her writing. “I would not disagree with her, but I’d ask her if she couldn’t find a different way of phrasing things sometimes instead of throwing the bombs (that I agreed with her should be thrown),” he said. “She was accommodating but very firm in her views, and I appreciated that.” 

As Middle East Policy reported earlier this spring, Joyce’s editor’s notes contained prescient and incisive analyses of the run-up to the Iraq invasion and its aftermath. She noted at her celebration, “We never curried public opinion very much.” 

Looking back at his tenure with the organization and his accomplishments alongside Joyce, Freeman said, “Maybe one of the most important things the journal did was to publish John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s ‘The Israel Lobby.’ It was originally commissioned by the Atlantic, which withdrew its support. [Mearsheimer and Walt then] had to publish overseas in the London Review of Books.  

“So we stepped forward [in 2006]—and I’m very proud we did—to publish that,” Freeman continued. “It was an ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment. And no good deed goes unpunished, of course, so we were duly castigated for that. But I’m proud of it and I’m proud of Anne for doing that.” 

Freeman told attendees that Joyce’s analysis of the Israel-Palestine issue had a major effect on his thinking in the late 1990s. When he succeeded George McGovern as president of the Middle East Policy Council, the former ambassador said, he was not passionate about issues around peace in the region. But as he read Joyce’s editor’s notes and “learned more about the essential injustice of the situation, I became sufficiently interested in it.”  


Anne Joyce’s Tenure in Comparative Perspective 




Ronald Reagan is the oldest president ever 


Joseph R. Biden is the oldest president ever 

Submissions to the journal are made on paper 


Submissions to the journal in Microsoft Word 

Journal articles manually coded with instructions to the printer for formatting changes like bold, all caps 


Formatting is instantly changed through the power of personal computers and word processing 

A googol is 10 to the 100th power 


Google ranks Middle East Policy 3rd in its field 

Anne Joyce first editor’s note sees hope for prospects of peace between Israel, Palestine 


Anne Joyce’s final editor’s note (2020) questions optimism over Abraham Accords, peace process 

No Metro station near Anne’s Virginia home 


Tenuous funding for entire Metro system 

Washington football team wins the Super Bowl 


Washington football team is the shame of the city 

The Baltimore Orioles win the World Series 


Orioles have made playoffs only four times in 40 years 

Fans can go to football games inside District lines, but no tickets available 


Fans have to go to Largo to see football games, and no one wants to 

Basketball fans must go to Largo, Maryland, for Washington Bullets games 


Wizards games played in Chinatown, which was anything but chic in ‘83 

Washington Capitals hockey team is irrelevant 


Capitals are the only team that matters 

There is no professional baseball team in DC 


Fans question whether the DC team is professional 

Anne’s favorite institutions are the National Gallery, the Kennedy Center, the Washington Opera, the Washington Symphony, and the Arena Stage 


These great cultural institutions endure, and Anne can tell you about the many great experiences she has had attending them over many decades 

Anne Joyce finds a home at the American-Arab Affairs Council 


Anne Joyce still has a home at the Middle East Policy Council 


Contemporary Politics and Beyond 

Joyce, Freeman, and other participants discussed the significant changes wrought over the last decade, from the Arab Spring to the waning of US influence to the apparent rise of China, as well as the council’s place in the fields of media and education. 

“American hegemony is no more in the region. Every country feels empowered to follow their own national interests as they see them,” Freeman observed. “The region is no longer content to be patronized by the United States alone but is looking to diversify its support, to free itself from great-power domination.” 

Cobban asked about the recent offer by China to try to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue, wondering aloud, “I have no idea why they would want to do that.” 

Freeman cautioned that Beijing may not be serious about actually wading into the negotiations toward a resolution, but he argued that the Chinese “are responding to global public opinion.” 

Anne Joyce

“There is a global majority that is fed up with this issue and the way it has been mishandled,” the former council president continued. “You see this in the United Nations. Whether they’re sincere or not, I don’t know. They’re certainly taking a stance that they believe boosts their popularity globally. And I think that’s right; it does.” 

Asked about how she was able to chart the course of the journal in the midst of so many developments over the decades, Joyce said that the small staff and tight deadlines meant that it was difficult “to plot out exactly what was going to be in each issue because current events determine a lot of that.” 

“We were lucky that we had so many people interested in publishing with us,” she added. “If you create a platform for views, you will be inundated with material. People really want a place to say something where there is a process of curation.” 

Alghussein told the audience that in the spirit of the council’s decades of work on relations between the United States and the region, her team is taking a three-pronged approach. One is to focus on congressional relationships, as “many of the problems with the US position toward Palestine and Israel are largely rooted on the Hill.” 

Another is rebooting the long-running TeachMideast program by using modern technology to connect classrooms in the Middle East with classrooms in the West, allowing students who do not have passports to meet and learn from counterparts in other regions. 

Finally, the journal is working to expand its reach by creating content that is more accessible to contemporary readers, such as Instagram posts and Tik Tok videos.  

Freeman contended that the journal continues to have a role to play in informing the conversation about the region—and he learned this from experience. When he first joined the council, he said, “I believed the official propaganda for the most part, and gradually discovered that this was the region where hypocrisy was first invented.” 

Middle East Policy, the ambassador continued, “provides a forum for the expression of honest opinion on subjects that are very much subject to political correctness and constraints.” 

Summing up the future of the organization, Freeman asserted: “The Middle East Policy Council, as an American institution with American roots and an American perspective, has to take on countering some of the propaganda from the region as well as enlightening Americans about our own misunderstandings of it. This is a very difficult task.” 


You can watch Just World Educational’s video of the Anne Joyce celebration on YouTube

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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