Under the Microscope — an Intellectual and a Politician

“Whatever the Left touches it ruins” [Dennis Prager, April 10, 2018].

Fouad Ajami, a renowned scholar of Arab history and governments, who led the Middle East Studies program at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C., for more than 30 years, died of cancer on June 23, 2014 at the age of 68.

Professor Ajami was born in Arnoun, a rocky hamlet in the south of Lebanon into a Shia Muslim family. His New York Times obituary reads as follows:

“An Arab, Mr. Ajami despaired of autocratic Arab governments finding their own way to democracy, and believed that the United States must confront what he called a “culture of terrorism” after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He likened the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to Hitler.”

Ajami, who was born in Lebanon, came to SAIS from Princeton’s faculty in 1980 and departed in 2011 for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where he was a senior fellow. He advised the White House during the presidency of George W. Bush and helped rally support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In his “9/11 and the ‘Good War'”, which was published by The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 11, 2009 with the notation ” It was the furies of the Arab world, not Afghanistan, that struck America eight years ago today, commences with, “The road that led to 9/11 was never a defining concern of President Barak Obama. But he returned to 9/11 as he sought to explain and defend the war in Afghanistan in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Ariz., on Aug 17.

Quoting Obama; ‘The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight and we won’t defeat it overnight, but we must never forget: This is not a war of choice; it is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda could plot to kill more Americans.’

Astutely, Ajami points to the distinction between a war of choice [Iraq] and a war of necessity [Afghanistan] as becoming canonical to American liberalism. He feels that one should dispense with the distinction, for it is both morally false and intellectually “muddled”. No philosophy of just and unjust wars will support it.

It was amid the ferocious attack on the American project in Iraq that there was born the idea of Afghanistan as the ‘good war’. This was the club with which the Iraq war was battered. “This was where that binary division was set up: The good war of necessity in the mountains of Afghanistan, the multilateral war born of a collective NATO decision — verses George W. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq, fought in defiance of the opinions of allies, who had been with us in the aftermath of 9/11, and whose goodwill we squandered in the cruel streets of Fallujah and the deserts of Anbar”.

Ajami felt that the November, 2008 elections would provide an opportunity to bring America’s embattled solitude and isolation in the world to an end. A man with ‘strands of Islam woven into his identity and biography’ was catapulted to the presidency. One wonders whether his reference to Barack Hussein Obama in this curious manner arises from the latter having declared, “I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.”

Fouad Ajami asserts that a policy which falls back on 9/11, must proceed from a correct reading of the wellsprings of Islamic radicalism. The impulse that took America from Kabul to Bagdad had been on the mark. Those were not Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11. They were Arabs. Their terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life. Their financiers were Arabs and so were their crowds in Cairo, Nablus and Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America getting its comeuppance on that terrible day.

Ajami believed that it was important to take the war into the Arab world itself, and the despot in Bagdad had drawn the short straw. He had been brazen and defiant at a time of genuine American concern, and a lesson was made of him. As the ruler in Bagdad, he was a favored son of that Arab nation. The decapitation of his regime was a cautionary tale for his Arab brethren. Grant George W. Bush his due. He drew a line when the world of the Arabs was truly in the wind and played upon by powerful temptations.

Mr. Obama and his advisors need not pay heroic tribute to the men and women who labored before them. But they have so maligned their predecessors and their motives that the appeal to 9/11 rings hollow and contrived. In those years behind us, American liberalism distanced itself from American patriotism, and damage is there to see.

Haaretz published, “Fouad Ajami: A Courageous Scholar who was Friendly to Israel” by Seth Lipsky on June 24, 2014. This piece was one of admiration of an Arab scholar by a Jewish journalist. Lipsky not only respected Ajami’s ideals of freedom and democracy; but his courage and preparedness to take an unpopular stand.

When the Palestinian Arabs unilaterally went to the UN General Assembly for a vote on statehood, Ajami was among those who argued that they had “misread” the vote in 1947. “True, the cause of Jewish statehood had been served by the vote on partition, but the Zionist project had already prevailed on the ground. Jewish statehood was a fait accomplish perhaps a decade before that vote. All the ingredients had been secured by Labor Zionism.”

Fouad Ajami had chastised the liberals for opposing the war with Iraq out of “a surly belief that liberty can’t be spread to Muslim lands.” He, himself, was living testament to the idea that it could.

Lipsky’s admiration for Ajami was furthered by his acknowledgment that not only did Israel have “a military formation powerful enough to defeat the Arab armies,” but that there were “political institutions in place, and there were gifted leaders, David Ben Gurion preeminent among them, who knew what can be had in the world of nations.”

“From 9/11 to the Arab Spring”, authored by Fouad Ajami appeared in the Wall Street Journal of September 8, 2011. It is an excellent exposure to his insights — a few selected paragraphs follow:

“The Arabic word ‘shmata’ has its own power. The closest approximation to it is the German ‘schadenfreude’ glee at another’s misfortune. And when the Twin Towers fell 10 years ago this week, there was plenty of glee in Arab lands—a sense of wonder, bordering on pride, that a band of young Arabs had brought soot and ruin onto American soil. This occasioned the observation of the noted historian Bernard Lewis that there were pro-American regimes with anti-American populations, and anti-American regimes with pro-American populations.

There was to be no way of getting politically conscious Arabs to accept responsibility for what had taken place on 9/11. Set aside those steeped in conspiracy who thought that these attacks were the work of Americans themselves, that thousands of Jews had not shown up at work in the Twin Towers on 9/11. The pathology that mattered was that of otherwise reasonable men and women who were glad for America’s torment. The Americans had might, but were far away. Now the terrorism, like a magnet, drew them into Arab and Muslim lands. Now they were near, and they would be entangled in the great civil war raging over the course of Arab and Muslim history.

America held the line in the aftermath of 9/11. It wasn’t brilliant at everything it attempted in Arab lands. But a chance was given the Arabs to come face to face, and truly for the first time, with the harvest of their own history. Now their world is what they make of it.”

Of the numerous books, journals, newspaper Op-Ed’s and magazines authored by Fouad Ajami, it is extremely difficult to make choices for a blog. With this in mind, what follows is an extract from the Wall Street Journal of September 20, 2012 entitled, “Muslim Rage and the Obama Retreat.”

“This is not a Jimmy Carter moment – a US Embassy and its staff seized and held hostage for 444 days, America’s enemies taking stock of its weakness, its allies running for cover. But the anti-American protests that broke upon 20 nations this past week must be reckoned a grand personal failure for Barack Obama, and a case of hubris undone.

No American president before this one had proclaimed such intimacy with a world that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia. From the start of his administration, Mr. Obama put forth his own biography as a bridge to those aggrieved nations. He would be a ‘different president’, he promised, and the years he lived among Muslims would acquit him — and thus America itself. They told their history as a tale of victimization at the hands of outsiders, and he empathized with that narrative.

Without knowing it, he had broken a time-honored maxim of the world: Never speak ill of your own people when in the company of strangers. In Cairo he had described himself as a ‘student of history’. But in his first foreign TV interview, he declared his intention to restore US relations with the Islamic world to ‘the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago’.

This coincided almost to the day with the 30th anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran. That ‘golden age’ he sought to restore covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of Beirut to the forces of terror, deadly attacks on our embassies, the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland and more. A trail of terror had shadowed the American presence.

Yet here was a president who would end this history, who would withdraw from both the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan and the bad one in Iraq. Here was a president who would target America’s real enemy al Qaeda. ‘Osama bin Laden is dead’, we’ve been told time and again, and good riddance to him. But those attacking our embassies last week had a disturbing rebuttal: ‘Obama we are Osama!’ they chanted, some brandishing al Qaeda flags.

Our foreign policy has been altered, as never before, to fit one man’s electoral needs. In tales of charismatic, chosen leaders, it is always, and only, about the man at the helm.”

The Jewish Press of NY published, “Fouad Ajami, ” Genuine Arab Hero”, dead at 68 by Lori Lowenthal Marcus on June 23, 2014. She reminds us that Ajami was the winner of a MacArthur Prize in 1982 and was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush in 2006. He was an advocate of the Iraq War and an acerbic critic of US President Barack Obama.

On the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary, Ajami rebuked his fellow Arabs for refusing to accept his fellow Arabs for refusing to accept the existence of the Jewish State, choosing instead to inculcate their followers with the fervent desire and belief that Arab might would excise Israel from their midst like a boil. He wrote in US News and World Report:

In its short history, Israel has held up a mirror for the Arabs, who have not liked what they have seen. In the first Arab-Israeli war, in 1948, the paramilitary and volunteers of the new state turned back Arab armies. Although outgunned and outnumbered, the Jews prevailed. There was the embarrassment of the numbers. The population of the new state was a mere 650,000, while that of the surrounding Arab states was approximately 40 million. No Arabs had been prepared for what had unfolded. The war was thought to be a routine endeavor, the defeat of the Jewish state preordained. There were men of public affairs in these Arab states who knew better, but they hadn’t had the courage to tell the truth to the unsuspecting crowd.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus reminds us that Barry Rubin, another ME scholar whom the world lost far too soon, astutely stated, “You want to know what’s wrong with the study and analysis of the ME in the West? OK, here it is: Edward Said is treated like a guru and hero; Fouad Ajami isn’t.

From “A ‘rare” Arab intellectual: Fouad Ajami [1945-2014]” by Joseph A. Kechichian [Aljazeera]: Ajami condemned autocratic Arab governments and called on the West to confront what he called a “culture of terrorism”. Bernard Lewis, the British-American famous historian, once described Fouad Ajami as “both a Shiite from South Lebanon and an American political scientist”. Ajami trained hundreds, if not thousands of budding scholars and helped place them in advisory roles to senior government officials. He did this in ways that surpassed what Lewis and others fathomed without disparagement, even as he remained objective. As a trained academic, his significant contributions added value, though his core concerns about the direction that Arab autocrats pursued, created dilemmas.

FP: “How Obama Opened His Heart To The Muslim World” by Michael Oren, June 19, 2015. The purpose of this essay is for a former Israeli Ambassador to the US to provide insights from his experience.

“Days after jihadi gunmen slaughtered 11 staffers of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a policeman on January 7, hundreds of thousands of French people marched in solidarity against Islamic radicalism. Forty-four world leaders joined them, but not President Barack Obama. Neither did his attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, or Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, both of whom were in Paris that day.

Other terrorists went on to murder four French Jews in a kosher market that they deliberately targeted. Yet Obama described the killers as “vicious zealots who … randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli.” Enough said, perhaps not, as Oren has written another book on the same creature, “Obama’s Muslim roots influence his Mideast Policy”. [June 29, 2015].

Matt Margolis and Mark Noonan found it necessary to write a book on “The Worst President in History- the Legacy of Barak Obama.”

About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.
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