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Taken together, these four books do not allow readers a full view of the Syrian elephant, but they come close. Starr, a journalist who lived in Damascus for five years, records his encounters with ordinary Syrians and with the state’s intelligence apparatus. Lesch, an American historian, enjoyed unusual access to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other regime stalwarts. Haddad, a Syrian academic, analyzes the business allies of Syria’s Baathist regime. Ajami is a more distant observer than the others, but his stage setting and political sketches are superb.
Terrible rulers, sullen populations, a terrorist fringe -- the Arabs' exceptionalism was becoming not just a human disaster but a moral one. Then, a frustrated Tunisian fruit vendor summoned his fellows to a new history, and millions heeded his call. The third Arab awakening came in the nick of time, and it may still usher in freedom.
Fouad Ajami considers Michael Mandelbaum's The Frugal Superpower.
As Washington considers a rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Itamar Rabinovich’s commanding new book makes clear that change will not come quickly or easily -- and, if the past is any indication, it may not come at all.
The Foreigner's Gift is vintage Fouad Ajami: bold, crisp, wide-ranging, and discursive, it will surely both inform and provoke. But can the U.S. invasion of Iraq really be defended as a noble mission regardless of its cause -- or its outcome?
If the assassins of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri sought to make an example of him for his defiance of Syria, the aftermath of the crime has mocked them. For a generation, Lebanon was an appendage of Syrian power. But now the Lebanese people, in an "independence intifada," are clamoring for a return to normalcy. The old Arab edifice of power has survived many challenges in the past, but something is different this time: the United States is now willing to gamble on freedom.
The driving motivation behind a new U.S. endeavor in Iraq should be modernizing the Arab world. Most Arabs will see such an expedition as an imperial reach into their world. But in this case a reforming foreign power's guidelines offer a better way than the region's age-old prohibitions, defects, and phobias. No apologies ought to be made for America's "unilateralism."
The American imperium in the Arab-Muslim world has hatched a monster; primacy has begotten its nemesis. Pax Americana is here to stay -- but so too is the resistance to it, the uneasy mix in those lands of the need for the foreigner's order and the urge to lash out against it. George W. Bush, who grew up far removed from foreign places, must now take his country on a journey into an alien and difficult world.
This article appears in the Foreign Affairs eBook, "The U.S. vs. al Qaeda: A History of the War on Terror." Now available for purchase.
The Arab world has squandered its political inheritance of secular nationalism. In the 1980s, autocracy and young theocratic brigades overtook and exiled the older generation of liberals. The rise of political Islam was accompanied by severe economic decline in the region. But the Middle East is ripe for a post-Islamist era. A modernist Arab alternative requires large-scale economic and political reform and a coming to terms with the two bogeymen -- America and Israel.
U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's clearest statement yet of his bid for reelection conveniently glosses over the greatest stain on his record: his failure to seize the moral initiative in Bosnia.
Egyptians are nostalgic for their bourgeois past, still wanting to believe that their country is not just a state but an idea and a historical movement. But in their odyssey through liberalism, pan-Arabism, nationalism, and Islamicism, their dreams of greatness have been continually disappointed. Today President Mubarak leads a country with an exploding population, a fraying infrastructure, and a violent fundamentalist fringe. The sorrows of Egypt lie not in any one adversity but in the decline under the military regime of a once vibrant civic life. The state is all that remains.
This article appears in the Foreign Affairs/CFR eBook, The New Arab Revolt.
States are sly creatures, making friends and foes to suit their goals, which are what they have always been-wealth and power. Civilizations do not control states, states control civilizations.
Assesses the effects of Iraq's annexation of Kuwait on the unity of the Arab world, and the recognition among Arab elite opinion generally that US assistance will be necessary to advance Arab interests. Professor of Middle Eastern studies, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University.
Discusses the dynamics of the Iranian revolution. Argues that the traditional conflict (common to all revolutions), between consolidating the revolution at home and exporting it abroad, can be seen in Iran since Khomeini came to power. Moreover, the image of an isolated, embattled revolutionary nation is proved to be false by the "foreign links of the revolution's political economy".
In the Shia vision of history, born of centuries of oppression and marginality, a time comes when the mighty are humbled; the lowly who kept the faith rise up and inherit the earth free from oppressors. From this vision has come consolation. It sustained an embattled minority faith through the eras of worldly and political dispossession.
"The only really nonaligned countries in the world," the president of Sri Lanka once quipped, "are the United States and the Soviet Union." A quarter-century after the great historic meeting in Bandung in 1955, what remains of nonalignment? How has the Third World fared since then? How have the heirs of the great historic figures, who most recently met in Havana in September 1979, acquitted themselves and handled the legacy? What kind of baggage will the nonaligned take to their next meeting in Baghdad in 1982? The last surviving member of the leading Bandung figures, U Nu of Burma, now tells us that the movement has been betrayed: "I cannot honestly call it a nonaligned movement. . . . As far as I am concerned I do not see any bright future for it."
Political ideas make their own realities. Often in defiance of logic, they hold men and are in turn held by them, creating a world in their own image, only to play themselves out in the end shackled by routine problems not foreseen by those who spun the myth, or living past their prime and ceasing to move people sufficiently. Or, political ideas turn to ashes and leave behind them a trail of errors, suffering and devastation.
If the October 1973 War represented the zenith of pan-Arab solidarity, the Sinai Accord, concluded in September of 1975, must surely represent its ebb and disintegration. With the outbreak of the October War and the deployment of the oil weapon, the dreams that had for some time tantalized the minds of politically conscious Arabs appeared to be coming true. A traditionally divided Arab world was acting in unison and Arab armies were finally getting a chance to redeem their honor in a sharp break with a humiliating record of defeats. And the superior and resented West was finally being humbled and made to pay for the psychological scars and political and cultural dislocations that its dominance had inflicted upon the Arab world.