Professor Fouad Ajami died Sunday, at age 68. I thought his obituary in the New York Times, like many of their obits, was deeply interesting. I saw Ajami frequently on television, as an expert commentator, on CNN mostly. He was definitely suave, and I thought persuasive in his analyses, at least on their surface. For me, he did bring a certain credibility: he was an Arab, born and raised in the Levant until he was 18, when his family came to the U.S.
I always had reservations about his analyses, however, as he had become an American college professor rooted in this country, and, worse, a denizen of the ideological think-tank subculture. In other words, for decades he was no longer a day-to-day or more or less continuous presence in his area of expertise — the Middle East, its Arab nations and peoples.
As the obituary makes clear, he was a member of that amazing, only-in-America group, our public commentators who are almost always wrong about the really important things, but who seem never to go away quietly in disgrace (in Olde England, one admiral who failed at war was hanged for it):
● Dick Cheney: “In a speech in 2002 ... Cheney invoked Mr. Ajami as predicting that Iraqis would greet liberation by the American military with joy.” At the time, this astute “expert” assessor of the contemporary Iraqi public temperament was safely ensconsed in his scholar’s office at Johns Hopkins, a short drive from the White House;
● The Condoleezza, who “summoned him to the White House” when she was (ugh!) national security advisor fresh from ... a sunny California campus half the globe away from Iraq;
● The hapless Paul Wolfowitz, whom Ajami advised when Wolfie was deputy secretary of defense under the unbalanced Princeton grad and wrestling cheat Donald Rumsfeld. At least Rummie served in the military;
● And Princeton professor Bernard Lewis (another scholar who moonlighted as an Important Expert Advisor for the powerful). Lewis, who “urged the United States to invade Iraq,” advised President George W. Bush himself — going right to the tippy top, as it were. From the obit, I learned the degree to which Ajami was in that cohort with Professor Lewis. (William Kristol wasn’t mentioned in the obit as one of the always-wrong, as should have been his due. I’m sure Willy published lots of praise about Ajami in his magazine)…
(By the way, let us nevermore hear how elitist liberal universities like Princeton turn out, exclusively, legions of brainwashed liberals and other leftist and perverted crazies who poison and undermine our republic. Think Lewis and Rumsfeld. Ajami, too, taught at Princeton. And we must add to my little counter-argument U.S. Senator Ted Cruz as well.)
Professor Ajami bought into the Gilded Age legacy of Democracy, Always and Forever. He “despaired of autocratic Arab governments finding their own way to democracy,” with the implication that others — oh, who, I wonder, could those others be? — would lead them to it, like horses to water. He told his audience “of how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried [and failed] to renew their homelands’ culture through the forces of modernism and secularism.” (We can pass over, for now, the perception that there may be a homeland on the other side of the Atlantic that needs its culture renewed through the forces of modernism and secularism.)
That catalog of wet-dream stuff for other nations has long been the price of entry to the circle of the powerful and the righteous, the ones who, as the obit said, “believed that the United States must confront what he [Ajami] called a ‘culture of terrorism’ after the 2001 terrorist attacks…” Not before? How come the revelation came so late to this seemingly so knowledgeable scholar of the region and its cultures?
Prof. Ajami also “strove to put Arab history into a larger perspective,” often referring to “Muslim rage over losing power to the West in 1683, when a Turkish siege of Vienna failed.” (In 1683? The Times offers us that lunatic howler with a straight face.) “He said this memory had led to Arab self-pity and self-delusion, as they blamed the rest of the world for their troubles.”
You have to be pretty far removed from the reality on the ground anywhere (and from common sense) to come up with imaginings like this. I suppose the Muslim Middle East is 99% full of just plain people. Folks who have families, children, jobs, little joys and too often sorrows. They want education for their children, things like that, and maybe not so much finally to get revenge for 1683 in Austria by destroying two buildings far away from Austria, in New York City.
I’ve never been in the Arab Levant, but I doubt the respectable folks there, busy with living their lives as best they can, sit around the kitchen table and lament the failure of the Ottomans (who were themselves culturally centered in Asia Minor, I believe, not in Iraq or the Arabian peninsula) to overrrun Vienna. What a crock of shit — yet Professor Ajami shrewdly got the power players to buy it and butter his bread.
Well, that’s the message they wanted to hear, to be sure. I’ll bet the local people in the Middle East complained and still complain endlessly about stuff, real stuff, not just Ajami’s imaginary nonsense ... but I’ll also bet it hasn’t typically included anger at being humiliated by the cavalry of the Holy Roman Empire, a k a “the West.”
The Times obituary failed to observe that Prof. Ajami is only one in a large coterie of men (mostly) who determinedly urge “us” into this or that war or other military escapade, but who have never troubled themselves to put on the uniform of military or naval service and risk standing in harm’s way. Yes, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, that includes you, not just the “Dick” and Wolfie and Feith and many of the rest of the gang so eager to keep Dover Air Force Base busy.