Ajami’s Gift

As you may recall, Professor Fouad Ajami found time from his visits to the White House to write another book about the Middle East. It’s called The Foreigner’s Gift, and it’s been reviewed in the NYT by Noah Feldman, who himself was involved with the ill-fated Iraqi adventure. He was hired by the Provisional Authority as a consultant to help draft the new Iraqi Constitution–you know, the piece of paper that says that no law in Iraq can contradict principles of Sharia? Anyway, here is Feldman on Ajami:

Few other Americans have Ajami’s distinctive qualifications for reflecting on the Iraq war. Born to a Shiite family in Lebanon, he has written several important books about Middle Eastern political culture, including a recognized classic on the Lebanese Shiites, “The Vanished Imam.” He supported the removal of Saddam Hussein, and his extraordinary level of access in Washington is reflected in “The Foreigner’s Gift,” which recounts many conversations he had in Iraq while shadowing American officials or traveling with close American allies like Chalabi. Respected by politicians who disdain most academics, and excoriated by antiwar academics who detest the present government, Ajami richly deserves the attention of both camps.

More than just “supporting the removal of Saddam Hussein,” Ajami was one of those scholars (Bernard Lewis, Kanan Makiya, et al.) who predicted (in fact, told the administration) that the Americans would be greeted with “sweets and flowers.” One hundred thousand deaths and a civil war later, why would anyone lend credence to his analysis of Iraq?? But, hey, what do I know–I’m just a poor Arab immigrant. And a woman, at that. I think I’m supposed to be silent or submissive or something.

Feldman is on more solid ground in his criticism of Peter Galbraith’s The End of Iraq, in which the question of the Kurds (and an independent Kurdistan) is discussed. Here, Feldman raises some serious and pragmatic questions to the proposal:

The chief problem with the “break Iraq in two” option is that creating an independent Kurdistan does absolutely nothing to address the present violence in the country. It might be nice for the Kurds, especially if the United States gave them the Kirkuk oil field and then permanently stationed large numbers of troops in Kurdistan to protect it. But Kurdistan is mostly peaceful, and at present Kurds are not fighting Arabs in Iraq, except to some small degree around disputed Kirkuk itself. The violence in Iraq is predominantly Sunni-Shiite; and the United States desperately needs the stabilizing third force of the Kurds in the national leadership and the armed forces to have any hope at all of damping it down. To the contrary, breaking off Kurdistan would create a new violent front, because a Sunni ministate could never survive without a share of Kirkuk’s oil, and so Sunni insurgents would have to turn their attentions to the Kurds. This is to say nothing of the continuing concerns of Turkey about an independent Kurdistan, or the possibility of Turkish encroachment having to be confronted by American forces.

To this list one might also add the domino effect an independent Kurdistan could have for other Kurdish minorities in Syria and Iran. Oy. Is your head spinning yet?