Ajami’s Voice

Ajami’s Voice

President Bush has an opportunity, following the departure of Karen Hughes as under secretary of state for public diplomacy, to open a new kind of demarche to the Arab world almost as important, in its own way, as the upgrade he has made at the Justice Department with Attorney General Mukasey. The candidate for the job is a professor at Johns Hopkins, Fouad Ajami, whose name was advanced last week by Clifford May in a column called “Last Chance for Public Diplomacy,” and it strikes us as an idea that would give the president a chance for a defining demarche in his last year in command of the war.

The position of under secretary for public diplomacy was established following the dismantling, in 1998, of the United States Information Agency. But the office has been badly used. President Clinton gave initial appointment to Evelyn Lieberman, the White House staffer who arranged the transfer for Monica Lewinsky to the Pentagon. Under Mr. Bush, the office has been occupied by Charlotte Beers, a Madison Ave. advertising executive who had successfully marketed Uncle Ben”s; by Margaret Tutwiler, a former spokeswoman for Secretary of State Baker; and most recently by Mrs. Hughes, who lacked for vision.

Yet we can”t help but thinking that the office, occupied by an individual of substance and with time in grade on the Middle East beat, could play an enormously constructive role. Of Professor Ajami, a Lebanese-born Shia Muslim and an American citizen who serves is the Majid Khadduri Professor of Middle East Studies at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, Mr. May, himself president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote: “No one understands the Arab and Muslim worlds better than Ajami. And no one can better explain America and this White House than Ajami.”

Mr. Ajami would provide America with a spokesman with erudition and eloquence precisely in the areas most important to us right now, and it is hard to see how the Democrats could oppose him, though he was for the war in Iraq and has remained a defender. He has called the allied occupation is “The Foreigner”s Gift” to the Arabs. Citing progress in Lebanon (from whose Shia precincts Mr. Ajami hails) and among liberal Egyptian circles, and especially in Iraq, Mr. Ajami believes the Arab world is at the stage of 1848 Europe – a democratic awakening actively suppressed by a reactionary backlash.

The political dynamic in Congress will press Democrats to inquire about Mr. Ajami”s prediction, as cited by Vice President Cheney in an August 2002 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars: “As for the reaction of the Arab “street,” the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are “sure to erupt in joy the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.”” Iraq war critics and those riding the wave generated by anti-war enthusiasms will wonder about Mr. Ajami”s observation that only the outcome of the war “will determine whether it will be a noble success or a noble failure.”

But much as the Democrats may question him on these assertions, he will be able to put them — and other critics, including in the Middle East — on the defensive themselves. Liberals, he wrote about the Iraq war, opposed the war out of “a surly belief that liberty can”t be spread to Muslim lands.” He, in fact, has given over his whole idea to the proposition that the Muslim lands deserve freedom and can support it. And there is little for Mr. Bush to lose and much to gain. If an Ajami nomination is made and gets rejected, liberals would have confirmed his view of them. Should he be confirmed, America would be able to project a new and articulate voice into the debate over the Arab future.