The Lewis Doctrine
Bernard Lewis often tells audiences about an encounter he once had in Jordan. The Princeton University historian, author of more than 20 books on Islam and the Middle East, says he was chatting with Arab friends in Amman when one of them trotted out an argument familiar in that part of the world.
“We have time, we can wait,” he quotes the Jordanian as saying. “We got rid of the Crusaders. We got rid of the Turks. We'll get rid of the Jews.”
Hearing this claim “one too many times,” Mr. Lewis says, he politely shot back, “Excuse me, but you've got your history wrong. The Turks got rid of the Crusaders. The British got rid of the Turks. The Jews got rid of the British. I wonder who is coming here next.”
The vignette, recounted in the 87-year-old scholar's native British accent, always garners laughs. Yet he tells it to underscore a serious point. Most Islamic countries have failed miserably at modernizing their societies, he contends, beckoning outsiders — this time, Americans — to intervene.
Call it the Lewis Doctrine. Though never debated in Congress or sanctified by presidential decree, Mr. Lewis's diagnosis of the Muslim world's malaise, and his call for a U.S. military invasion to seed democracy in the Mideast, have helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years. The occupation of Iraq is putting the doctrine to the test.
Terrorism has replaced Moscow as the global foe. And now America, having outlasted the Soviets to become the sole superpower, no longer seeks to contain but to confront, defeat and transform. How successful it is at remolding Iraq and the rest of the Mideast could have a huge impact on what sort of superpower America will be for decades to come: bold and assertive — or inward, defensive and cut off.
As mentor and informal adviser to some top U.S. officials, Mr. Lewis has helped coax the White House to shed decades of thinking about Arab regimes and the use of military power. Gone is the notion that U.S. policy in the oil-rich region should promote stability above all, even if it means taking tyrants as friends. Also gone is the corollary notion that fostering democratic values in these lands risks destabilizing them. Instead, the Lewis Doctrine says fostering Mideast democracy is not only wise but imperative.
After Sept. 11, 2001, as policy makers fretted urgently about how to understand and deal with the new enemy, Mr. Lewis helped provide an answer. If his prescription is right, the U.S. may be able to blunt terrorism and stabilize a region that, as the chief exporter of oil, powers the industrial world and underpins the U.S.-led economic order. If it's wrong, as his critics contend, America risks provoking sharper conflicts that spark more terrorism and undermine energy security.
After the terror attacks, White House staffers disagreed about how to frame the enemy. One group believed Muslim anger was all a misunderstanding — that Muslims misperceived America as decadent and godless. Their solution: Launch a vast campaign to educate Muslims about America's true virtue. Much of that effort, widely belittled in the press and overseas, was quietly abandoned.
A faction led by political strategist Karl Rove believed soul-searching over “why Muslims hate us” was misplaced. Mr. Rove summoned Mr. Lewis to address some White House staffers, military aides and staff members of the National Security Council. The historian recited the modern failures of Arab and Muslim societies and argued that anti-Americanism stemmed from their own inadequacies, not America's. Mr. Lewis also met privately with Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Frum says he soon noticed Mr. Bush carrying a marked-up article by Mr. Lewis among his briefing papers. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Says Mr. Frum: “Bernard comes with a very powerful explanation for why 9/11 happened. Once you understand it, the policy presents itself afterward.”
The Lewis Doctrine posits no such rational foe. It envisions not a clash of interests or even ideology, but of cultures. In the Mideast, the font of the terrorism threat, America has but two choices, “both disagreeable,” Mr. Lewis has written: “Get tough or get out.” His celebration, rather than shunning, of toughness is shared by several other influential U.S. Mideast experts, including Fouad Ajami and Richard Perle.
A central Lewis theme is that Muslims have had a chip on their shoulders since 1683, when the Ottomans failed for the second time to sack Christian Vienna. “Islam has been on the defensive” ever since, Mr. Lewis wrote in a 1990 essay called “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” where he described a “clash of civilizations,” a concept later popularized by Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington. For 300 years, Mr. Lewis says, Muslims have watched in horror and humiliation as the Christian civilizations of Europe and North America have overshadowed them militarily, economically and culturally.
“The question people are asking is why they hate us. That's the wrong question,” said Mr. Lewis shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. “In a sense, they've been hating us for centuries, and it's very natural that they should. You have this millennial rivalry between two world religions, and now, from their point of view, the wrong one seems to be winning.”
He continued: “More generally … you can't be rich, strong, successful and loved, particularly by those who are not rich, not strong and not successful. So the hatred is something almost axiomatic. The question which we should be asking is why do they neither fear nor respect us?”
3 February 2004
This is a fascinating article that provides the foundation for understanding the current US foreign policy in the Middle East. Recently some of the Middle East countries have stated to take on their problems with internal terrorism, unemployment, and participation in government. This makes me believe that these countries believe the “Get tough” policy by the US is here to stay and that they need to stop accommodating terrorists or the US will put someone else in charge.