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Some Books

As long as we're worried about ignorance, I thought I might mention a few informative security-relevant books I've read over the past three years:

  • Imperial Hubris and Through Our Enemies Eyes by Michael Scheuer ("Anonymous").
  • The Failure of Political Islam and Globalized Islam by Olivier Roy.
  • After Empire by Emmannuel Todd.
  • The Folly of Empire by John Judis.
  • A History of Iraq by Charles Tripp.
  • Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century by Adeed I. Dawisha.
  • The Republic of Fear by Kenan Makiya.
  • The Gathering Storm by Kenneth Pollack (admittedly, nowadays one might want to pay more attention to the part of the book where he says you should do all this stuff after reconstructive Afghanistan, putting the Israel-Palestine peace process back on track, and making major progress against al-Qaeda than I [or Pollack] did at the time).
  • Central Aisa: A Gathering Storm by Boris Rumer.
  • After Jihad and What We Owe To Iraq by Noah Feldman.
  • Exiting Iraq by Christopher Preble.
That's what comes to mind. It obviously makes a great deal of difference what one reads. No doubt if everything I know about the Middle East had been learned from Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami (I have, for the record, read Daniel Pipes' Militant Islam Reaches America, I just wouldn't recommend it as informative) I'd doubtless have an entirely different set of political opinions. Nevertheless, it's by an unfortunate fluke in our media culture that the combined Lewis-Pipes-Ajami audience in America is probably the same size (if not larger) than that of every other Arabist put together, the fact that they're propounding the views of a tiny, tiny (it's really tiny, maybe professor Cole or Aardvark will seek to quantify exactly how tiny) minority within the scholarly community notwithstanding. At any rate -- recommendations?

September 13, 2004 | Permalink


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I recommend you tidy up the subject-verb agreement in the prior post title (GWB loveS?)


Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 13, 2004 3:16:34 PM

Is that Anonymous/Michael Scheuer? Speaking of, I'd subcategorize him under the Lewis (and Ajami and Pipes) contingent. I think you have to understand something about Lewis before reading IH or you're going to get this very singular picture of what's happening over there, i.e., what Muslims think of the conflict, because MS cites Lewis as authoritative when there is, of course, considerable debate about many of the things that Lewis says. And an evaluation of Lewis is more or less necessary for an evaluation of IH (maybe the same is true with Ajami to a lesser extent, I can't remember) because so many of MS's assertions are "If x then y" constructions building from Lewis.

Posted by: Kriston | Sep 13, 2004 3:28:49 PM


I'd also add "America Alone" by Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, which critiques the Bush/neoconservative foreign policy from a Reaganite perspective. Quite informative.

Posted by: Robert A. | Sep 13, 2004 3:32:10 PM

Well Scheuer seems to say he's citing Lewis as authoritative, but then goes on to disagree with Lewis about some pretty fundamental points. Scheuer thinks "they" hate us because they hate our policies and Lewis thinks "they" hate us because they're jealous of our material success. I was puzzled throughout Imperial Hubris as to why Scheuer is so praising of Lewis with whom, objectively, he seems to have a lot of difference. One of the real oddities of IH is that Scheuer clearly thinks of himself as a rightwinger and when citing western writers exclusively cites other rightwingers, either for the purposes of agreement or disagreement, when his analysis (if not his policy prescriptions) is much more in line with that of left-wing academics than of the conservatives he claims to admire.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Sep 13, 2004 3:35:30 PM

Ahmed Rashid's Jihad is good for Central Asia. Magnus and Naby's Afghanistan: Mullah, Marx, and Mujahadeen is good for that country. For a general Islamic history work shorter than Lapidus, Hourani, et. al., click on my name to see a link to Jonathan Berkey's The Formation of Islam, which everyone raves about and which won MESA's Albert Hourani Book Award. Peter Sluglett is considered the U.S.'s leading authority on Ba'athist Iraq from a historical perspective. Ali Ansari is one of the most highly regarded Iran experts.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Sep 13, 2004 3:39:56 PM

I have a few recommendations:

1. Paul Pillar's Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy.

2. Scott Simon and Daniel Benjamen's The Age of Sacred Terror.

3. Phillip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles.

I don't believe the Pipes/Lewis/Ajami axis is ascendent in the reading public because of 'media quirks.' The answer is probably far more straightforward. Much of the academic world was either blindsided by the breadth and depth of violent Islamism or was dedicated to elaborate defenses of said violence, repression, and anti-modernism. The Lewis (I can't speak for Pipes) explanations struck many non-academics as reasonable.

Posted by: Greg Scoblete | Sep 13, 2004 3:42:38 PM


I'd also recommend THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE by Chalmers Johnson and SOFT POWER by Joseph Nye.

Posted by: Lewis Carroll | Sep 13, 2004 3:46:08 PM

It's probably a fair criticism that Arabists aren't the best terrorism experts, as terrorism affects the people attacked far more than it does Arabs, Iranians, etc.

Anyway, Angry Arab has a book about Saudi Arabia called "American Taliban" or some such thing, though I've never read it. Anthropologist Madawi al-Rasheed is perhaps the highest-profile expert on that subject, though as you might expect given her field parts of her work are thick going.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Sep 13, 2004 3:51:15 PM

You should also check out my new website


Professor Instahack

Posted by: Glenn Reynolds | Sep 13, 2004 4:05:17 PM

Not sure how you could even consider leaving off:

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin

Posted by: Doctor Memory | Sep 13, 2004 4:05:33 PM

One of the real oddities of IH is that Scheuer clearly thinks of himself as a rightwinger and when citing western writers exclusively cites other rightwingers, either for the purposes of agreement or disagreement, when his analysis (if not his policy prescriptions) is much more in line with that of left-wing academics than of the conservatives he claims to admire.

That disconnect you cite re: MS and V.D.Hanson/Lewis is even more evident in the political commentary of IH, where MS rips the warplanning of both Afghanistan and Iraq to shreds but only mildly rebukes Rumsfeld and mentions W. Bush just three times or so. I'm not sure if MS actually believes that the Iraq war was concocted by Tenet in response to Clinton's failed policies, but that is the impression you get if you look to any parts of the book connected to the names of current and recent US leaders.

Posted by: Kriston | Sep 13, 2004 4:12:17 PM

Speaking of Lewis, I read his "The Muslim Discovery of Europe" and though it was a waste of a good title. It was almost entirely about the Ottomans from the XVI-c or so on on. He ignored priods when Islam was thriving, culturally productive, and multicultural -- e.g., Muslim Andalusia, a great age of Jewish culture, and Mongol Iran, an amazingly multicultural place. Granted, these were earlier, but choosing the Ottomans biased the conclusion toward the decision that Islam is just no damn good.

This was an early book and he may have developed, but after reading it and glancing at the bibliography I thought of him as a Turkologist and not an Arabist.

Posted by: Zizka | Sep 13, 2004 4:52:40 PM

Lewis is originally an Ottomanist by trade - he later expanded into the medieval period, and more recently developed a modern focus. The reason he would have started his book then is partly because Muslims weren't too concerned with European civilization during the Middle Ages - the great Muslim geographers usually didn't even bother to visit it.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Sep 13, 2004 4:56:36 PM

I would highly recommend Robert Cooper's "A Breaking of Nations". A quick read that covers some interesting theoretical ground seeming free of the standard debates. Quite nice.

Posted by: jb | Sep 13, 2004 5:14:13 PM

I would also recommend All the Shah´s Men by Stephen Kinzer and The Reckoning by Sandra Mackey.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Sep 13, 2004 5:18:19 PM

As mentioned above, the majority of 'scholarly' community was in (and in some cases remains in) complete denial about the jihadism's strength and reach. As a result their viewpoints tend to have been heavily discounted.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Sep 13, 2004 5:21:24 PM

Matt writes: when his analysis (if not his policy prescriptions) is much more in line with that of left-wing academics than of the conservatives he claims to admire.

FWIW, my reading of "Anonymous" (admittedly through his multiple media appearances, I haven't read the book) is that he takes into account various right-wing sources - including the "Pat Buchanan-wing" (which is, in some ways, very similar to that of the "left-wing academics" in that they also believe it's generally just our policies, rather than our lifestyle/belief system, which al-Qaeda finds objectionable to the point of needing to kill some of us), but I don't believe his conclusion or general view is the same as that of the "left-wing academics" or the "paleo-cons" for that matter, although some of his views are similar to both groups.

Rather, Scheuer argues that if we can't change all of our policies that serves to fuel the recruiting pool for various extremist groups - and he believes we can't change all those policies (some for reasons he doesn't like - i.e. Israel/Palestine - but some for reasons he accepts - i.e. energy policy), than one option is "Total War," meaning if you are going to fight, basically do it in a "Powell Doctrine" all out kill-fest and don't stop killing until they have no capability to hit back.

I don't think you'll see that view expressed in the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Columbia, or on the pages of "antiwar.com" or its partner in crime, the "American Conservative."

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Sep 13, 2004 5:26:20 PM

The Kabir Book by Robert Bly.

Posted by: Slothrop | Sep 13, 2004 5:47:04 PM

Well, some of them were interested in Spain, no? And the Mongols of Iran had extensive relations with Europe, and many of them were Muslim.

Posted by: Zizka | Sep 13, 2004 5:53:54 PM

I can't remember, did you already read Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier?

Posted by: Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu | Sep 13, 2004 5:55:06 PM

Pipe's very early (1980s?) book "In the Path of God" is actually very good without being tendentious. Among other things, shows how utterly impractical-- to the point of impossible --a Sharia state would be. You also should read any good biography of Muhammad, with special emphasis upon the second half of his life.

Posted by: Luke Lea | Sep 13, 2004 7:12:15 PM

Yes, sebastian, people who make up their facts tend to ignore people who disagree with them. No argument there.

Posted by: Zizka | Sep 13, 2004 8:06:53 PM

Not that I've read all of these, just that this is the part of my reading list that isn't also on Matt's list:

Ghost Wars, by Steve Coll

China's Techno-Warriors, by Evan A. Feigenbaum

The Fourth Power, by Gary Hart

World on Fire, by Amy Hua

Blowback, by Chalmers Johnson

A Problem From Hell, by Samantha Power

Posted by: Saheli | Sep 13, 2004 8:14:42 PM

Anything by Edward Said. I'd recommend some Chomsky and Finkelstein on Israel/Palestine (as well as Simha Flapan's fine "The Birth of Israel"), but I think this is too much for the mod-lib crowd here. I mean, Samantha Power? Her book on America and genocide was a joke. Endless hand-wringing about Milosevic, but less than a page on East Timor, a mass slaughter financed directly by the US which butchered nearly a third of the Timorese population. Yet, somehow, Power couldn't be bothered with the crimes of her state. Better to lament those she has no power over.

Posted by: santo | Sep 13, 2004 10:49:00 PM

Maybe better to report on those she was there to witness? I don't know, I mean, there's always some terrible shit going on, and then there's always some even worse shit going on somewhere else. . . but that doesn't mitigate the fact that this first shit was pretty terrible.

Posted by: Kriston | Sep 14, 2004 12:54:38 AM

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