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The Foreigner’s Gift by Fouad Ajami

- Abstract

The last year or so has seen several insider histories of the American experience in Iraq. Written by generals (Bernard Trainor’s Cobra II, with Michael Wood), reporters (George Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate), or bureaucrats (Paul Bremer’s My Year in Iraq), each undertakes to explain how our enterprise in that country has, allegedly, gone astray; who is to blame for the failure; and why the author is right to have withdrawn, or at least to question, his earlier support for the project.

Fouad Ajami’s The Foreigner’s Gift is a notably welcome exception—and not only because of Ajami’s guarded optimism about the eventual outcome in Iraq. A Lebanese-born scholar of the Middle East, Ajami, now at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, lacks entirely the condescension of the typical in-the-know Western expert who blithely assures his American readers, often on the authority of little or no learning, of the irreducible alienness of Arab culture. Instead, the world that Ajami describes, once stripped of its veneer of religious pretense, is defined by many of the same impulses—honor, greed, self-interest—that guide dueling Mafia families, rival Christian televangelists, and (for that matter) many ordinary people hungry for power.

About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His “Re-rethinking Iraq: Nothing Succeeds Like Success” appeared in the April COMMENTARY.