This is a partial transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," July 22, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denounced Israel's attacks on Lebanon this week in language that was noticeably stronger than that used by other Arab governments in the region. What's behind this split in Arab sentiment?
Fouad Ajami is the director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University, a CBS News analyst and the author of the new book, "The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq."
FOUAD AJAMI, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Thank you very much, Paul.
GIGOT: In your new book, you talk about the foreigner's gift to the Arab world. What do you mean by that?
AJAMI: Well, in a way, there is a kind of ambivalence in the title, because as you know when foreigners bear gifts, it is a complicated gift.
But fundamentally, this is a book that really makes the case for the war, and it is a very sympathetic account of the war and a kind of account of the bet that we have made on this war that will change some of the ways of the Arab world and a portrait of the Iraqis and the Americans caught up in this war.
GIGOT: And a bet on the democracy project...
GIGOT: ... President Bush's democracy project, which you argue is still a bet worth taking.
AJAMI: Absolutely. That's the argument.
GIGOT: Well, a lot of Americans looking at the turmoil in the Middle East now have made the case that look, this is actually making the Middle East a more dangerous place, this democracy project, because you have Hamas, a terror regime, taking over in Palestine, that you have Hezbollah, which has representatives in the Lebanese parliament, now making trouble in the Middle East.
What's your response to that argument that, hey, this project is making the world more dangerous?
AJAMI: Well, I don't think we are here because of the democratic impulse, if you will, in the Arab world. We are here because of other things. We are here because of the push of Iran into the Arab world. We are here because of the thwarted ambitions of the Syrians. We are here because of the intersection, if you will, between Iran's ambitions and the radicalism in the Arab world.
So we are not here because somehow or another we have tried to reform the ways of the Arab world. This crisis makes it even more imperative that you have to protect order in the region and the democratic aspirations of people. The Lebanese government is a fairly democratic government, elected in a democratic way, and yet here it is hostage to the wider currents of this Arab radicalism.
GIGOT: But I think some of the dictators in the region, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would say, see, America, this is what happens when you try to roll the dice of history, as I think you put it in your book, and try to — we offered you stability for 20, 30 years. Now you have this mess. Don't do this.
AJAMI: Well, the terrible price was paid for stability. We know what the price was. It was 9/11. So we rejected this kind of argument. I mean, this is really the kind of where we are now.
GIGOT: Does the democracy effort in the Middle East have to go through what some people are calling this radical period, where you have to let the people of the region elect a Hamas, if that's their choice, and then have to live with the consequences before they discover that in fact radicals don't deliver what they want — stability, prosperity — and then maybe we will enter an era which is better?
AJAMI: Well, in truth now, the question of democracy has been put aside. I mean, in fact we have this war on the Israeli-Lebanese border, and indeed this is a very tenacious crisis, because if you recall, we all went through the war of a quarter century ago, there was another war in Lebanon, the Lebanon war of 1982, because there was another bid in Lebanon that was playing out.
You know, the Lebanese have always been, if you will, they have been the good home to the wars of others. There is a great Lebanese journalist, Ghassan Twaini. His son, Jibran, was killed by the Syrians.
And he has an expression, basically says the wars of others. So the wars of the region played out in Lebanon. A quarter century ago, it was the Israeli- Palestinian war that played out in Lebanon. Now, this time, it is the confrontation between Iran and Israel, Iran and America. And this is really the issue of the hour.
GIGOT: In that context, it has been fascinating to watch Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Sunni regimes of the area, who would denounce Israel on a moment's notice, denounce Hezbollah more than they've denounced Israel. What explains this?
AJAMI: Well, they pulled the plug, if you will, on Hezbollah. Because anyway, they are very sympathetic to the government, the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Siniora. By tradition, the prime minister in Lebanon is a Sunni Muslim, and Siniora is an aide of the late Rafik Hariri, if we remember.
GIGOT: Who was assassinated?
AJAMI: Absolutely. So the Sunni Arab governments are very sympathetic to the government of Fouad Siniora, and they're very sympathetic to the order in Lebanon.
But there is a cautionary tale I think that has to be told about the Sunni Arab regimes. They have always bet on the Sunnis of Lebanon. Their traffic has been with the Sunnis of Lebanon. And my lament...
AJAMI: Absolutely. And my lament is in fact that the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Jordanians don't have much credit with the Shia of Lebanon. They don't have much credit with the Shia of the south. They don't have much credit with the Shia of greater Beirut.
And the Shia of Lebanon were left, if you will, as easy prey for the Iranians. So the Iranians came in, exploited this breach, and sent enormous sums of money over the last 20 years to the Lebanese Shia, and now they've called in their chips.
This is really what the Iranians have done. They paid Hezbollah for over two decades, and now they have called these chips and asked for this war. And the timing of this war is an Iranian timing.
GIGOT: And the Sunni Arabs fear a regionally dominant Iran.
AJAMI: Absolutely. They fear a regionally dominant Iran.
But I think their huge moral responsibility for being, shall we say, indifferent to the suffering of the Shia of Lebanon because a quarter century ago they gave enormous money and enormous support to the Palestinians to the disadvantage of the Shia.
They left the Shia. They've never had traffic with them. They've never had traffic with them, and that's why you see this impasse between the Sunni Arab regimes and the Shia of Lebanon.
GIGOT: All right, Fouad Ajami, thanks for being here.
AJAMI: Thank you.
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