Michael Totten interviews Michael B. Oren, author of “Power, Faith, and Fantasy in the Middle East”. This is an excellent introduction to the book [which I’m currently reading]. Like Oren’s “Six Days of War” this will prove to be one of the four or five most important books on the Middle East. .
MJT: When speaking of the Barbary War you used the word â€œjihad.â€ I donâ€™t think you used that word in your book, though, did you?
Oren: No, I didnâ€™t really have to. There was the case in 1785 where Thomas Jefferson is sent to negotiate with the envoy of the Pasha of Tripoli. Jefferson says to him that America only wants peace with the Barbary states. And he says to Jefferson â€œNo, we want war with you. We have a holy book called the Koran which says that we have to conquer and enslave all infidel states. And the United States is an infidel state. And moreover our holy book the Koran tells us that if we are killed in the course of carrying out this war that weâ€™ll go directly to Paradise.â€ So I didnâ€™t think I even had to put the label jihadist on there. I figured that remarkable report of Jeffersonâ€™s at the Continental Congress would suffice to alert contemporary readers what Jefferson was dealing with in the Middle East.
MJT: You have taken the long view of American involvement in the Middle East perhaps more than anyone else in the world. Having done that, are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Oren: As a historian Iâ€™m optimistic. Listen, I view the war in Iraq not as a war, but as a battle in a much more protracted war. Iraq is Americaâ€™s Bull Run in the war in the Middle East. Itâ€™s our first losing battle.
It is not Vietnam. You cannot withdraw from Iraq and be confident that the enemy is not going to follow you. Because the enemy is going to follow you. America canâ€™t detach from the Middle East because the Middle East is not going to detach from America. And Americaâ€™s going to have to learn to fight this fight to win in a much more prudent and effective way. And there are ways America can fight it more effectively.
MJT: What do you suggest?
Oren: I suggest America invest very heavily in intelligence and training an entire generation of service women and men to speak the languages, be conversant in the languages and the cultures of the Middle East. America has to invest much more heavily in intelligence gathering. America has to invest much more heavily in rapid response forces in the Middle East and retain them there.
America has to get involved in theology. Weâ€™ve been fighting a theology with an ideology. It doesnâ€™t work. We have to get in the business of promoting a reformist Islam. Itâ€™s important. Itâ€™s controversial, but important.
MJT: How do we do that? Do you mean by promoting the moderates who already exist?
Oren: Well there are some moderates who exist. They donâ€™t have any places where they can go out and speak and speak free of harm. We can help disseminate their ideas. Right now the extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam predominates in schools across Europe. The West has basically given up the field to these people.
Links to numerous reviews of Oren’s latest are here