Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University, comes from a Shi’a family in Lebanon. Professor Ajami is the author of numerous books on the Middle East, the latest of which is The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq - to be published in July. Unlike many Arab intellectuals, Professor Ajami is a strong advocate of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He says the war in Iraq was a “noble war” and a “gift” that the American people and the Bush administration in 2003 gave to the people of Iraq.
Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Professor Ajami says one of the reasons he is so optimistic about the outcome of the war is related to his discussions with Deputy Prime Minister and Kurdish leader Barham Saleh, who told him that, with all that with all the mistakes and even today’s chaos, the Iraqis have been “delivered from a tyranny that would have lasted 1,000 years.” Furthermore, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani told him, “We have been delivered into a new land.” However, Professor Ajami notes that the Sunni Arab world does not generally share this optimistic view. He says many Arabs worry that, if Iraq fails, there will be “chaos” in the region. On the other hand, he says, the Sunnis are “even more worried that Iraq will succeed” as a multicultural society. For example, there is now a Kurdish president, a Shi’a prime minister, and a newly appointed Sunni defense minister.
Regarding long-term prospects for stability, Professor Ajami says, although the building of the Iraqi army has been relatively successful, the building of the Iraqi police has not. And the surrounding countries have been sending the “misfits of their societies” – the Arab jihadists - to Iraq to stir up discord. Professor Ajami says he thinks that today there is no public diplomacy that would work with the Arab world and no way to convince the Arabs that the United States is there to “deliver Iraq from its ordeal and its torment.”
People in the Arab world, Professor Ajami notes, simultaneously “love” and “hate” America. But, contrary to recent polls, he does not believe that America has “low standing” in the Arab world. Nonetheless, he says there is a tremendous ambivalence in U.S. diplomacy about the spread of democracy in the Arab world and the risks of encouraging “one man, one vote, one time.” Fouad Ajami argues that, when America became implicated in the “furies of the Arab world” after 9/11, it became “imperative” to take seriously the political ills of Arab countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and to push democracy in the region. Although in initial elections the ballot box may indeed favor the Islamists, Professor Ajami argues it is a “risk we have to take.” He says the Arab states will eventually “come around to accepting the new order,” but not until the Iraqis are “capable of ordering their own lives better.”
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