Fouad Ajami

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In a politically contested city such as Beirut, there are public figures who fall to assassins, and others deemed safe by their reasonableness and moderation. The assassination Dec. 27 of former Finance Minister Mohamad Chatah by a car bomb in a swanky part of the city called into question the rules of the sordid political game that has come to dominate Lebanon’s life.

Chatah wasn’t a warlord, or a man of the militias. He was an economist, a technocrat with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas. He had served as his country’s ambassador to Washington, and knew the world of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.…  Seguir leyendo »

“We want the Americans to respect our sovereignty and be an honest partner. And bring a lot of money.”

Thus declared Afghan President Hamid Karzai to a council of his country’s tribal elders, the loya jirga. You have to hand it to him: No client regime before has shown such open disregard for its patron and protector. In its engagements in what used to be called the third world, the U.S. had the misfortune of riding with a bunch of unsavory rulers -- Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua, Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and so on.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hassan Nasrallah, the dreadful Shiite cleric who commands the Lebanon-based Hezbollah movement, couldn’t get what he wanted.

He had plunged his militia into the war in Syria, he had helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and he had bragged about the prowess of his fighters. Yet he had asked that the fight for Syria be waged only on Syrian soil.

The two bombings that hit the Iranian embassy in a Hezbollah neighborhood of Beirut on Tuesday should have delivered to Nasrallah a truth known to all protagonists in this fight. There are no easy victories, no way that the fire could rage in Syria while life went on as usual in Beirut.…  Seguir leyendo »

More than 200,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees have moved into Iraqi Kurdistan. They have crossed an international border to be sure, yet it is, in the Kurdish world view, a passage from one part of their homeland to another. The Kurds disregard these frontiers, imposed on the Fertile Crescent almost a century ago by Anglo-French power.

No Kurd is lamenting the erosion of the borders in this tangled geography. The partition of the successor states of the Ottoman Empire brought the Kurds grief and dispossession. The Persians, Turks and Arabs secured their own states. Indeed, the Arabs were bequeathed several states in the geography of “Turkish Arabia” that runs from the Iraqi border with Iran to the Mediterranean.…  Seguir leyendo »

The knives -- or more properly the scalpels -- are drawn in the Egyptian public square. The liberal forums and the state media are suddenly filled with discussions of illness, with the workings of cancer, with the way diseased cells spread unless “excised” and the tumors removed.

Hail the surgeons who perform the needed operations. They must be possessed of steady hands and be precise; they must do their work and check again to make sure that the damaged organs are completely removed. “Istisal,” surgical removal, is the word of the day among erstwhile decent men and women, who express their fondness for the removal of tumors.…  Seguir leyendo »

The car bombs that killed more than 40 people last weekend in a town in southern Turkey are a reckoning for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He had made himself party to the fight over Syria and vowed that he would see the end of Bashar al-Assad’s rule. But Assad has hunkered down, and the Turkish leader who calls on U.S. President Barack Obama this week faces a dilemma. In the face of Syrian provocations, Erdogan threatens dire consequences, yet draws back, sheltered behind the assertion that his country won’t be drawn into a full-scale war with the regime in Damascus.…  Seguir leyendo »

It is rarely a good idea to draw maps in a hurry. But that is what colonial cartographers did in the Arab world after the First World War, and the borders they painted were superimposed on old tribal and religious attachments that long predated the new states.

Today, the folly of those lines is made clear, as Syria’s war threatens not just that country’s territorial unity but that of its neighbors as well.

Alas, it was perhaps optimistic to ever imagine that the fighting between Syria’s Alawite regime and the Sunni-led rebellion would remain within the country’s borders. Syria is at once the pivot and a mirror of the Fertile Crescent, and its sectarian and ethnic fissures reproduce themselves in neighboring Arab states.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the matter of the Syrian rebellion, the U.S. hasn’t even “led from behind.” The Obama administration has pioneered a new role for a great power: We are now the traffic controllers, directing the flow of weapons to the rebels.

The money isn’t ours; it is Qatari and Saudi and Libyan. The planes hauling the weapons are Jordanian, Qatari and Saudi. And the risks are run by Syria’s neighbors, principally Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Our officials have opinions on Syria, but no one in the Greater Middle East can divine them. We want Bashar al-Assad gone -- our president said so in August 2011 -- a full five months into a brutal war.…  Seguir leyendo »

The barbarisms inflicted on the young in Syria continue unabated while Americans grieve for the children of Newtown.

In the U.S., we try to fathom the cruelty, and the faces of Connecticut first-graders torment us. Similar stories are told by Syrians suffering at the hands of Bashar Assad's brutal regime. One such account was given in "Untold Atrocities," a report released several months ago by the Save the Children charity. It opens with the tale of one Syrian child, Alaa, as told by Wael, a narrator who is 16 years old.

"I knew a boy named Alaa. He was only 6 years old.…  Seguir leyendo »

Modernity requires the willingness to be offended. And as anti-American violence across the Middle East and beyond shows, that willingness is something the Arab world, the heartland of Islam, still lacks.

Time and again in recent years, as the outside world has battered the walls of Muslim lands and as Muslims have left their places of birth in search of greater opportunities in the Western world, modernity — with its sometimes distasteful but ultimately benign criticism of Islam — has sparked fatal protests. To understand why violence keeps erupting and to seek to prevent it, we must discern what fuels this sense of grievance.…  Seguir leyendo »

Perhaps this Arab Revolution of 2011 had a scent for the geography of grief and cruelty. It erupted in Tunisia, made its way eastward to Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, then doubled back to Libya. In Tunisia and Egypt political freedom seems to have prevailed, with relative ease, amid popular joy. Back in Libya, the counterrevolution made its stand, and a despot bereft of mercy declared war against his own people.

In the calendar of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s republic of fear and terror, Sept. 1 marks the coming to power, in 1969, of the officers and conspirators who upended a feeble but tolerant monarchy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, appears today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Op-Ed page asked 10 experts to pose the questions they would like to hear Senator Clinton answer.

1. United States policy has failed with respect to Israeli-Palestinian peace. The reluctance of any American president to act as an honest broker in the process, rather than as a strong, unquestioning friend of Israel, has contributed to this failure. How do you propose to bring success to the peace process?

2. There is clearly an imbalance of influence and power between the State Department and the Defense Department.…  Seguir leyendo »

So the masked men of Fatah have the run of the West Bank while the masked men of Hamas have their dominion in Gaza. Some see this as a tolerable situation, maybe even an improvement, envisioning a secularist Fatah-run state living peacefully alongside Israel and a small, radical Gaza hemmed in by Israeli troops. It’s always tempting to look for salvation in disaster, but in this case it’s sheer fantasy.

The Palestinian ruin was a long time in coming. No other national movement has had the indulgence granted the Palestinians over the last half-century, and the results can be seen in the bravado and the senseless violence, in the inability of a people to come to terms with their condition and their needs.…  Seguir leyendo »