Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Foreigner's Gift

The Foreigner's Gift by Fouad Ajami

Sometimes time passes by between one post and the next. For one thing I have been reading. And have just finished reading Fouad Ajami's The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq . Okay more on Iraq. The more I learn about Iraq, the more disquiet I feel about the whole project. Before I go further here is the outline type review found at

"The fall of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime brought the first glimpse of freedom for Iraq and unleashed elation, resentment, and chaos. On the one hand, there is hope: the Iraqi people have their first chance at independence. On the other hand, there is despair: the country is exploding with violent sectarian and political power struggles. Through it all, Iraq has remained an enigma to much of the world. What is it about this country that makes for such a seemingly intractable situation? How did Iraq's particular history lead to its present circumstances? And what can we fear or hope for in the coming years?

Fouad Ajami, one of the world's foremost authorities on Middle Eastern politics, offers a brilliant, illuminating, and lyrical portrait of the ongoing struggle for Iraq and of the American encounter with that volatile Arab land. Ajami situates the current unrest within the context of Iraq's recent history of dictatorship and its rich, diverse cultural heritage. He applies his incisive political commentary, his broad and deep historical view, his mastery of the Arabic language and Arabic sources, and his lustrous prose to every aspect of his subject, wresting a coherent, fascinating, and textured picture from the media storm of fragmented information.

In the few years after the Iraq war began, Ajami made many trips to that country and met Iraqis of all ethnicities, religions, politics, and regions. Looking beneath the familiar media images of Iraq and the war, Ajami visits with individuals representing the breadth of Iraq's populace, from Sunni leaders and Shia clerics to Kurdish politicians and poets, Iraqi policemen, and ordinary people voting for the first time in their lives. He also hears from American soldiers on the ground, and the result of all his encounters is an astonishing portrayal of a land that has emerged as a crucial battleground between American power and the wider forces of Arab religious and political extremism."

This is a fascinating book. Prof. Ajami has a distinctly different prose style which spirals around a subject; that is starts around the edges of a subject and then circles inward. It is not unlike the spirals on the book cover of Islamic tile art. It takes awhile to get used to, but he illuminates much in his own way.

He actually sees some good thing coming out of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And he brings an unique perspective being a Shia Muslim of Lebanese descent.

The gift supplied by the 'Foreigners' is in this case, the removal of Saddam and the bringing of democracy to Iraq.

The thing is events since I even recently read this book, has already overtaken the somewhat hopeful prognostications of Mr. Ajami.

For example here is what Mortimer Zuckerman in the Oct. 15th issue of US News and World Report says about the undertaking in a opinion piece entiltled, " A Sad Litany of Failures. And I will quote just two paragraphs:

"Nobody was entitled to think the Iraq venture would be roses all the way, given that Saddam Hussein had repressed Iraqis for three decades, depriving the nation of a cadre of local leaders like, say, Hamid Karzai in Kabul. But we had a vision of what might have been achieved. It would not be too much to say it was a noble vision, but it was not one grounded in the hard reality of a fractured, multiethnic society. Saddam held his citizens down by brutality and cunning, not giving religious leaders a key role, as we did, yet subtly balancing religious rivalries one against the other. Shiites account for some 60 percent of Iraq's population, and for them democracy means empowerment. But the Sunnis, who had dominated under Saddam for so long, were never going to accept minority status, and the Kurds were not going to accept anything less than de facto sovereignty, which they obtained after the 1991 Gulf War.

Occupiers. Alas, whatever chances we may have had to overcome these difficulties have been torpedoed by the breathtaking incompetence of the Bush administration in managing postwar Iraq. Senior officials from the president on down ignored warnings that we might win the war and lose the peace. Gen. Tommy Franks won the battle for Baghdad but seemed to feel that planning for the postwar period was someone else's job. But whose? We sent an inept group of operatives to run Iraq, often appointed because of their political leanings. Whatever support we originally enjoyed there we began to lose when we allowed criminals to rampage. Then the Americans, fabled for their can-do efficiency, failed again and again to deliver electricity, water, and, most critically, security. Today, the violence is estimated by one account to have cost more than 600,000 Iraqis their lives. "

What I notice hasn't been mentioned is that this October has not only been the worst month for Americans this year, it has been the worse since November 2004. The situation has worsened. Much of the territory in Iraq is really controlled by either Sunni or Shia militias now. Our troops will be lucky to get out of there, with even some semblence of government and order restored. And there is no guarantee, that even if US forces stayed there until 2016, that the day after all US troops are gone, all hell might break loose again. Indeed, the hell on earth scenario is already happening for this corner of our planet.Posted by Picasa

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