Whether you agreed with him not, there's no denying that Fouad
Ajami will leave a void in the world of international relations.
Academic, author, Iraq War supporter, and contributor to Foreign Policy -- Ajami died of cancer on Sunday, June 22, at the age of 68. A senior fellow at Stanford University, Ajami
was an expert on Arab history and devoted much of his academic career to
putting it into context. Although renowned as an academic, Ajami was perhaps
best known for his appearances on TV news shows where he lent his credibility
to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Born in Lebanon in 1945, Ajami arrived in the United States in
1963 shortly before his 18th birthday. He studied at Eastern Oregon University
(then a college) and then at the University of Washington, where he wrote his
doctorate on international relations and world government. Ajami then taught
political science at Princeton University and later became the director of
Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Writing about foreign policy and trying to put history in its
contemporary context is no simple task. But Ajami shined in the public eye. He
was never shy of courting controversy -- Ajami always owned his views. He
authored more than 400 articles for newspapers and magazines, as well as
several books about the politics and history of the Middle East.
In tribute to Ajami's intellect and prowess as a
scholar, FP has put together a highlight reel of his most memorable
In his 1981 book, The Arab Predicament, Ajami
demonstrated his prescient knowledge of the Arab world by writing about the
unstable cocktail of extremism and authoritarianism in the region. Ajami
touched on similar themes in his FP debut just months after the Iranian
Revolution in "The Struggle for
"The fundamentalist call has resonance because
it invites men to participate, an invitation that contrasts with the official
political culture, which reduces citizens to spectators and asks them to leave
everything to the rulers. At a time when people are confused and lost and the
future is uncertain, Islamic fundamentalism connects them to a tradition that
reduces their bewilderment. The Muslim Brotherhood's opposition to Camp David
was phrased in a familiar idiom: the struggle of the Prophet, the integrity of
Islam, the need for sacrifice, the clash between the world of Islam and the
Jews, who will "never abandon their belief that they are God's chosen
people." Sadat's whole design, the Brotherhood said, was a false one. It
accepts a "Middle Eastern order." and the Middle East is a repugnant
concept to Muslim sensibilities, because it defines the Muslim world in
relation to the West. One cannot negotiate with the intruder and surrender
historical rights; some conflicts cannot be wished away. Egypt was invaded
before and she must now again resort to resistance. All the rulers have to do
is abandon their fancy palaces, their expensive cars, and their pretensions.
Islam taught men to struggle and die for worthwhile causes and the believers
must rediscover the will to persevere, the capacity for patience.
fundamentalism may never carry the day in Egypt. The society may have gone
beyond the puritanism of the fundamentalists and reached the point of no
return. But the importance and the power of Muslim fundamentalism may lie in
its ability to destabilize a regime, to help bring it down by denying it the
religious cover that remains an important source of political power. Here the
1952 Egyptian revolution is instructive. The Muslim Brotherhood helped topple
the monarchy, but it soon became the victim and target of the new regime.
Fundamentalism supplies the fervor, some of the committed manpower and the
willingness to take the risks of political action. But other characters -- more
capable of making compromises and less likely to frighten modernized young people
-- inherit the post revolutionary world."
Ajami was a staunch defender of American power and believer in Western
intervention, and his later career became defined by his proximity to President
George W. Bush in the lead-up to and during the Iraq War. In 2002, Vice
President Dick Cheney invoked Ajami's writings, saying, "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."
Falseness of Anti-Americanism,"
written in September 2003, Ajami makes his case for the necessity of American
power in the world, while trying to put the recent invasion of Iraq into
"Today, the United States carries the
disturbance of the modern to older places -- to the east and to the
intermediate zones in Europe. There is energy in the United States, and there
is force. And there is resistance and resentment -- and emulation -- in older
places affixed on the delicate balancing act of a younger United States not yet
content to make its peace with traditional pains and limitations and tyrannies.
That sensitive French interpreter of his country, Dominique Moïsi, recently
told of a simple countryman of his who was wistful when Saddam Hussein's statue
fell on April 9 in Baghdad's Firdos Square. France opposed this war, but this
Frenchman expressed a sense of diminishment that his country had sat out this
stirring story of political liberation. A society like France with a
revolutionary history should have had a hand in toppling the tyranny in
Baghdad, but it didn't. Instead, a cable attached to a U.S. tank had pulled
down the statue, to the delirium of the crowd. The new history being made was a
distinctly American (and British) creation. It was soldiers from Burlington,
Vermont, and Linden, New Jersey, and Bon Aqua, Tennessee -- I single out those
towns because they are the hometowns of three soldiers who were killed in the
Iraq war -- who raced through the desert making this new history and paying for
Ajami stayed true to his beliefs and continued
to argue that the U.S.-led invasion would create long-term stability. In "What
America Must Do: Steady as She Goes," written in 2007, Ajami argues for an internationally engaged United
"Nothing dramatically new needs to be done by
the next American president in the realm of foreign affairs. He or she will be
treated to the same laments about American power; the same opinion polls will
come to the next president's desk telling of erosion of support for the United
States in Karachi and Cairo. Millions will lay siege to America's borders,
eager to come here, even as the surveys speak of anti-Americanism in foreign
via CIRS Georgetown