Fouad Ajami, an academic, author and broadcast commentator on Middle East affairs who helped rally support for the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 — partly by personally advising top policy makers — died on Sunday. He was 68.
The cause was cancer, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where Mr. Ajami was a senior fellow, said in a statement
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.
Mr. Ajami strove to put Arab history into a larger perspective. He often referred to Muslim rage over losing power to the West in 1683, when aTurkish siege of Vienna failed. He said this memory had led to Arab self-pity and self-delusion as they blamed the rest of the world for their troubles. Terrorism, he said, was one result.
It was a view that had been propounded by Bernard Lewis, the eminent Middle East historian at Princeton and public intellectual, who also urged the United States to invade Iraq and advised President George W. Bush.
Most Americans became familiar with Mr. Ajami’s views on CBS News, CNN and the PBS programs “Charlie Rose” and “NewsHour,” where his distinctive beard and polished manner lent force to his authoritative-sounding opinions. He wrote more than 400 articles for magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, as well as a half-dozen books on the Middle East, some of which included his own experiences as a Shiite Muslim in majority Sunni societies.
Condoleezza Rice summoned him to the Bush White House when she was national security adviser, and he advised Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense. In a speech in 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney invoked Mr. Ajami as predicting that Iraqis would greet liberation by the American military with joy.
In the years following the Iraqi invasion, Mr. Ajami continued to support the action as stabilizing. But he said this month that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had squandered an opportunity to unify the country after American intervention and become a dictator. More recently, he favored more aggressive policies toward Iran and Syria. Mr. Ajami’s harshest criticism was leveled at Arab autocrats, who by definition lacked popular support. But his use of words like “tribal,” “atavistic” and “clannish” to describe Arab peoples rankled some. So did his belief that Western nations should intervene in the region to correct wrongs. Edward Said, thePalestinian cultural critic who died in 2003, accused him of having “unmistakably racist prescriptions.”
Others praised him for balance. Daniel Pipes, a scholar who specializes in the Middle East, said in Commentary magazine in 2006 that Mr. Ajami had avoided “the common Arab fixation on the perfidy of Israel.”
Fouad Ajami was born on Sept. 19, 1945, at the foot of a castle built by Crusaders in Arnoun, a dusty village in southern Lebanon. His family came from Iran (the name Ajami means “Persian” in Arabic) and were prosperous tobacco farmers. When he was 4, the family moved to Beirut.
As a boy he was taunted by Sunni Muslim children for being Shiite and short, he wrote in “The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey”(1998), an examination of Arab intellectuals of the last two generations. As a teenager, he was enthusiastic about Arab nationalism, a cause he would later criticize. He also fell in love with American culture, particularly Hollywood movies, and especially Westerns. In 1963, a day or two before his 18th birthday, his family moved to the United States.
He attended Eastern Oregon College (now University), then earned a Ph.D. at the University of Washington after writing a thesis on international relations and world government. He next taught political science at Princeton. In 1980, the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University named him director of Middle East studies. He joined the Hoover Institution in 2011.
Mr. Ajami’s first book, “The Arab Predicament: Arab Political Thought and Practice Since 1967” (1981), explored the panic and sense of vulnerability in the Arab world after Israel’s victory in the 1967 war. His next book, “The Vanishing Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon” (1986), profiled an Iranian cleric who helped transform Lebanese Shia from “a despised minority” to effective successful political actors. For the 1988 book “Beirut: City of Regrets,” Mr. Ajami provided a long introduction and some text to accompany a photographic essay by Eli Reed.
“The Dream Palace of the Arabs” told of how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried to renew their homelands’ culture through the forces of modernism and secularism. The Christian Science Monitor called it “a cleareyed look at the lost hopes of the Arabs.”
Partly because of that tone, some condemned the book as too negative. The scholar Andrew N. Rubin, writing in The Nation, said it “echoes the kind of anti-Arabism that both Washington and the pro-Israeli lobby have come to embrace.”
Mr. Ajami received many awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 1982 and a National Humanities Medal in 2006. He is survived by his wife, Michelle. In a profile in The Nation in 2003, Adam Shatz described Mr. Ajami’s distinctive appearance, characterized by a “dramatic beard, stylish clothes and a charming, almost flirtatious manner.”
He continued: “On television, he radiates above-the-frayness, speaking with the wry, jaded authority that men in power admire, especially in men who have risen from humble roots. Unlike the other Arabs, he appears to have no ax to grind. He is one of us; he is the good Arab.”
Fouad A. Ajami (Arabic: فؤاد عجمي; September 18, 1945 – June 22, 2014), was a MacArthur Fellowship winning,Lebanese-born American university professor and writer on Middle Eastern issues. He was a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Ajami was an outspoken supporter of the Iraq War, the nobility of which he believed there "can be no doubt".
Ajami was born in Arnoun, a rocky hamlet in the south of Lebanon. His Shiite family had come to Arnoun from Tabriz, Iran in the 1850s. In Arabic, the word "Ajami" means "non-Arab"; or "non-Arabic-speaker", specifically "Persian", "Persian speaker".
Ajami arrived in the United States in the fall of 1963, just before he turned 18. He did some of his undergraduate work at Eastern Oregon College (now Eastern Oregon University) in La Grande, Oregon. He did his graduate work at the University of Washington, where he wrote his thesis on international relations and world government, and earned a PhD.
In 1973 Ajami joined the politics department of Princeton University where he did not get tenure. He made a name for himself there as a vocal supporter ofPalestinian self-determination.
Ajami was an advisor to United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as a friend and colleague of Paul Wolfowitz.
Ajami was a frequent contributor on Middle Eastern issues and contemporary international history to The New York Times Book Review, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, as well as other journals and periodicals. He was also a contributor and close friend to Anderson Cooper of CNN.
Ajami frequently appeared on PBS, CBS and CNN News.
In "The Fate of Nonalignment," an essay in the Winter 1980/81 issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, Ajami outlines how the Third world has fared in a context of nonalignment in post Cold war politics. In 1980, he accepted an offer from Johns Hopkins University to become director of Middle East Studies at their international relations graduate program in Washington, D.C.: the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He holds an endowed chair as the Majid Khadduri professor.
A year after arriving at SAIS, Ajami published his first book, The Arab Predicament, which analyzed what Ajami described as an intellectual and political crisis that swept the Arab world following its defeat by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
Subsequently, Ajami has written several other books: The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey (1998), Beirut: City of Regrets (1988), and The Vanished Imam: Musa Al-Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon (1986).
In The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey, Ajami surveyed the intellectual landscape in the Arab world and Iran, in what was in some ways an autobiography as well as a sequel to "The Arab Predicament." On Middle Eastern politics, he wrote of "a world where triumph rarely comes with mercy or moderation." On Pan-Arabism, he described the ideology as "Sunni dominion dressed in secular garb."
Ajami's most recent book: The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, The Arabs and The Iraqis in Iraq (2006), is about the American invasion of Iraq.
View of Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations"
One notable contribution Ajami made in the September October 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs was a rebuttal to Samuel Huntington’s "The Clash of Civilizations?", regarding the state and future of international relations after the Cold War.
Huntington presents a world divided at the highest level into eight civilizations, and includes a number of countries that are “torn” between two civilizations, arguing that these civilizational divides are far more fundamental than economic interests, ideology, and regimes, and that the world is becoming a smaller place with increasingly close interactions. He further claims that the pre-eminence of a so-called "kin-country" syndrome will provide a civilizational rallying point that will replace political ideology and traditional "balance of power" considerations for relations between states and nations, resulting in a division between the West and "the rest" creating a backlash against Western values (which supposedly "differ fundamentally" from those prevalent in other civilizations).
In his article “The Summoning”, Ajami criticises Huntington for ignoring the empirical complexities and state interests which drive conflicts in and between civilizations. Ajami believes that states will remain the dominant factor influencing the global framework and interaction. He also argues that civilizational ties are only utilized by states and groups when it is in their best interest to do so and that modernity and secularism are here to stay, especially in places with considerable struggles to obtain them, and he cites the example of the Indian middle class. Ajami also believes that civilizations do not control states; rather, states control civilizations.
Ajami later relented on his initial criticism of Huntington's theories in the January 6, 2008 issue of the New York Times Book Review in an article titled "The Clash" in which he wrote that "Huntington’s thesis about a civilizational clash seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at that time."
Support for Iraq War
Ajami has been an outspoken supporter of the Iraq War, which he believes "issued out of a deep American frustration... with the culture of terrorism that had put down roots in Arab lands."
In an August 2002 speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, US Vice President Dick Cheney sought to assuage concerns about the anticipated US invasion of Iraq, stating: "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 in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.'"
Ajami cautioned the United States about the likely negative consequences of the Iraq War. In a 2003 essay in Foreign Affairs, "Iraq and the Arabs' Future," Ajami wrote,
There should be no illusions about the sort of Arab landscape that America is destined to find if, or when, it embarks on a war against the Iraqi regime. There would be no "hearts and minds" to be won in the Arab world, no public diplomacy that would convince the overwhelming majority of Arabs that this war would be a just war. An American expedition in the wake of thwarted UN inspections would be seen by the vast majority of Arabs as an imperial reach into their world, a favor to Israel, or a way for the United States to secure control over Iraq's oil. No hearing would be given to the great foreign power.
But he also goes on to say:
America ought to be able to live with this distrust and discount a good deal of this anti-Americanism as the "road rage" of a thwarted Arab world – the congenital condition of a culture yet to take full responsibility for its self-inflicted wounds. There is no need to pay excessive deference to the political pieties and givens of the region. Indeed, this is one of those settings where a reforming foreign power's simpler guidelines offer a better way than the region's age-old prohibitions and defects.
Ajami retained a positive view of the war three years later. In a 2006 book on the invasion and its aftermath, he described it as a noble effort, and argued that despite many unhappy consequences, it was too soon to write it off as a failure.
Vice President Cheney cited Ajami again in an October 21, 2007 speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, stating, "We have no illusions about the road ahead. As Fouad Ajami said recently, Iraq is not yet 'a country at peace, and all its furies have not burned out, but a measure of order has begun to stick on the ground.'"
Eight days after U.S. President Barack Obama took office, a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by Ajami called Obama a "messenger of the old, settled ways," claimed that the George W. Bush administration's diplomacy had had "revolutionary impact," and chided Obama for not praising the Iraq War. Ajami credited the Egyptian Revolution and Tunisian revolution to the Iraq War and Bush's advocacy of democracy:
He also stated, however, that
In June 2011, Ajami wrote an article for The New Republic arguing that the U.S. troops should remain in Iraq, writing that "the United States will have to be prepared for and accept the losses and adversity that are an integral part of staying on, rightly, in so tangled and difficult a setting." On June 13, 2011 he wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the unrest in Syria that "The mask of the Assad regime finally falls..."
Ajami was a 1982 winner of a five-year MacArthur Prize Fellowship in the arts and sciences. In 2006, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Bush.
Ajami was a member of the Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Board of Advisors of the journal Foreign Affairs. Ajami was a founding member of ASMEA (The Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) and is Vice Chairman of its academic council. Ajami also sat on the editorial board of Middle East Quarterly, a publication of the Middle East Forum think tank. He was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the cochair of their Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.
Fouad A. Ajami (Arabic: فؤاد عجمي; September 18, 1945 – June 22, 2014), was a MacArthur Fellowship winning, Lebanese-born American university professor and writer on Middle Eastern issues. He was a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Ajami was an outspoken supporter of the Iraq War, the nobility of which he believed there "can be no doubt".