The death of Fouad Ajami this weekend, at the age of 68, deprived this country and the world of a uniquely powerful voice – one that is at the same time both Arab and American – that could have helped guide us, as he has in the past, through the hazards and complications of his native Middle East.
When I became dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Relations in 1994, Professor Ajami was the director of Middle East studies and one of the joys of that job was being able to interact with him on a regular basis.
It would be difficult to find anyone writing on international politics today with such eloquence and power, and his extraordinary command of the English language was all the more remarkable for the fact that it was not his native language.
Along with that eloquence came remarkable courage. He spoke the truth as he saw it, without rounding off the corners. That earned him many enemies, writing as he was in a field full of sharp divisions.
Born in Lebanon, Fouad became an American by choice. He embraced the values of his adopted country, the United States, with a passion that matched his adoption of English. But he never lost sight of where he had come from or of the complexities and tragedies that will beset that part of the world for a long time to come. His writing is imbued with a deep sense of the tragedy arising from the clash between American power, with its “armies and machines – and earnestness," and “a big impenetrable region” where “America could awe the people of the Arab-Muslim world, and that region could outwit and outwait American power. . . . America could entertain for Iraqis hopes of a decent political culture, and the enemies of this project could fall back on a bigotry sharpened for combat and intolerance.”
Yet he retained a belief that the “decent political culture” of his adopted country is what the people of the Middle East need and that, despite the challenges, this “foreigner’s gift”—as he titled one of his books—would one day make the Middle East a better place, both for its own people and for the rest of the world.
There would never be a good time to lose someone like him. But he left us much too early, and at a time when his wisdom is so badly needed. Our country and the world are much poorer for it.
Today the Palestinian Authority announced a joint interim government uniting Fatah and Hamas. West Bankers and Gazans cheer the move because the division between the two most powerful Palestinian factions has been a black eye for the Palestinian nationalist movement. Their rival religious and political visions, dating back to the creation of Hamas in 1987, have divided the Palestinians ideologically. Moreover, the territorial divisions resulting from the 2007 civil war in Gaza had made the creation of a unified, viable Palestinian entity all but impossible, until now.
Remember a few years ago when Iranian officials had to intervene to prevent Hezbollah gunmen from turning on their Syrian patrons? Few people do. Today, the "axis of resistance" is as strong as ever, with Iran and Hezbollah fully committed to fighting for the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, despite battlefield losses and the political costs of siding with a brutal dictator who gasses and bombs his own people.
A car bomb detonated today in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. So far, four are reported dead and over 50 have been injured. With rumors spreading that the bombing may have been the work of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Sunni jihadist group with ties to al Qaeda, it seems that this was the latest in a series of moves indicating that the regional conflict with Syria as its red-hot center is growing ever wider, now encompassing all the Levant, from Baghdad to Beirut. In the Lebanese capital alone, within a one-week span a former Sunni minister was assassinated, Saudi Arabia bought a $3 billion share of a national army heavily infiltrated by Hezbollah, and then today the Party of God was targeted on its home turf.
In the wake of the interim deal that the White House signed with Iran Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry said on the Sunday talk shows that nothing has changed, not with the American position in the Middle East, or with the U.S. alliance system in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is screaming his head off, but Israel has nothing to worry about says Kerry.
The cartoon above is from the Great Game era in Central Asia, when the British and Russians were in a contest for places like Afghanistan and Iran. It's strongly (perhaps perversely) suggestive given current events.
Lebanese authorities have arrested two suspects affiliated with a pro-Syrian regime group in the bombing of two Sunni mosques in Tripoli on Friday. Forty-seven people were killed in the attack in the northern Lebanese city, likely retaliation for a bombing the previous week in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, that killed another 27.
Even with all eyes turned toward Egypt and the increasingly violent rifts pulling that society apart, the region’s active civil war in Syria burns on. Last Thursday, the two-and-a half-year-long conflict touched neighboring Lebanon, again, when a bomb detonated in the Hezbollah-held southern suburbs of Beirut killing 27 people and wounding hundreds.
For over a week now, the Syrian town of Qusayr in Homs Province has seen some of the heaviest fighting in the two-year conflict. The struggle for Qusayr, says besieged President Bashar al-Assad, “is the main battle” in all of Syria.
CNN reports this evening that there have been Israeli airstrikes on Syria:
"Two U.S. officials are telling CNN that the U.S. believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria," CNN reports. "Western intelligence agencies are reviewing classified data and they say they believe Israel conducted the strike today or late yesterday."
Eight years ago today, February 14, 2005, former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated, along with 22 others, when a massive explosive detonated as his motorcade drove past Beirut’s St. George Hotel.
Yesterday the Bulgarian government announced the results of its investigation into the July 18, 2012 bus bombing that killed 5 Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver in the city of Burgas. At least two members of what appears to have been a three-man team belong to Hezbollah. More specifically, explained Bulgaria’s interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, they were part of Hezbollah’s “military wing”—a peculiar turn of phrase that hints at the political implications of the Bulgarian investigation, which may have a major impact on European Union foreign policy as well as Hezbollah’s ability to operate on the continent. And yet the most serious repercussions may be felt inside Lebanon, where Hezbollah is already feeling the pressure.
Last week THE WEEKLY STANDARD published my article, “Smugglers Galore: How Iran Arms its Proxies.” It seems that part of it may have found its way onto the reading list of Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah.