Courtesy Reuters

The Dream Palace of the Empire: Is Iraq a "Noble Failure"?

In This Review

The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq

By Fouad Ajami
Free Press, 2006
378 pp. $26.00

Fouad Ajami is inescapably part of the story of the American adventure in Iraq. In the run-up to the March 2003 invasion, he was one of the most influential intellectual proponents of war, frequently appearing on talk shows and writing in publications including The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, and Foreign Affairs. Vice President Dick Cheney even cited Ajami in his August 2002 speech to the annual meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. A few lines after proclaiming, 'Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,' the vice president announced :"As for the reaction of the Arab 'street,' the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are 'sure to erupt in joy the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.' Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced, just as it was following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991."

Now, with the U.S. stay in Iraq exceeding three years and approaching the total time of U.S. combat engagement in World War II, what does Ajami have to say about it all?

The Foreigner's Gift is not a "what went wrong" account, although Ajami does not skip over any of the major mishaps. Nor is it an "if we had known then what we know now" rendition. Rather, in his short introduction and conclusion, Ajami claims that the U.S. intervention in Iraq was the right thing to do -- a "foreigner's gift" to the Iraqis and the Arabs. "The Saddam regime," he writes, "would have lasted a thousand years, had the Americans not come in and decapitated it." And the despotic, sclerotic Arab regimes needed just such a jolt to pave the way for reform or even their replacement. Nor does Ajami argue

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