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The Strong Horse
Cover of The Strong Horse
The Strong Horse
Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations
by Lee Smith
Borrow Borrow

In this provocative and timely book, Middle East expert Lee Smith overturns long-held Western myths and assumptions about the Arab world, offering advice for America’s future success in the region.
 
Seeking the motivation behind the September 11 attacks, Smith moved to Cairo, where he discovered that the standard explanation—a clash of East and West—was simply not the case. Middle East conflicts have little to do with Israel, the United States, or the West in general, but are endemic to the region. According to Smith’s “Strong Horse Doctrine,” the Arab world naturally aligns itself with strength, power, and violence. He argues that America must be the strong horse in order to reclaim its role there, and that only by understanding the nature of the region’s ancient conflicts can we succeed.
 
Smith details the three-decades-long relationship between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the United States, and gives a history of the Muslim Brotherhood, which would likely play an important role in the formation of a new government in Egypt. He also discusses Lebanon, where tipping the balance against Hezbollah in favor of pro-democracy, pro-US forces has become imperative, as a special tribunal investigates the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
 
Eye-opening and in-depth, The Strong Horse is much needed background and perspective on today’s headlines.

In this provocative and timely book, Middle East expert Lee Smith overturns long-held Western myths and assumptions about the Arab world, offering advice for America’s future success in the region.
 
Seeking the motivation behind the September 11 attacks, Smith moved to Cairo, where he discovered that the standard explanation—a clash of East and West—was simply not the case. Middle East conflicts have little to do with Israel, the United States, or the West in general, but are endemic to the region. According to Smith’s “Strong Horse Doctrine,” the Arab world naturally aligns itself with strength, power, and violence. He argues that America must be the strong horse in order to reclaim its role there, and that only by understanding the nature of the region’s ancient conflicts can we succeed.
 
Smith details the three-decades-long relationship between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the United States, and gives a history of the Muslim Brotherhood, which would likely play an important role in the formation of a new government in Egypt. He also discusses Lebanon, where tipping the balance against Hezbollah in favor of pro-democracy, pro-US forces has become imperative, as a special tribunal investigates the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
 
Eye-opening and in-depth, The Strong Horse is much needed background and perspective on today’s headlines.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book INTRODUCTION: The Clash of Arab Civilizations

    It was hard not to take 9/11 personally. I was raised in New York City, so when those planes flew into the World Trade Center, it felt like a direct attack on my family and friends and myself, on the neighborhoods where I’d gone to school, played, and worked, and on the Brooklyn block where I was living that beautiful summer day when the sky darkened with the ashes of other New Yorkers. It occurred to me more than once during the time I spent living and traveling in the Middle East after 9/11 that had I lived most of my life in some other American city or village, had New York not been my hometown, I might not have moved to the region some few months after to try to figure out what had happened. This book is an account of my time in the Middle East since then, and my understanding of it. My conclusion, without racing too far ahead, is that we all took 9/11 too personally.

    The spectacular nature of the event was cause enough to see it as a declaration of war on America, so it is hardly surprising that Amer­icans across the political spectrum came to think of it in the context of a “clash of civilizations.” Even those on the left who disdained the phrase nonetheless employed a version of the conceit when explain­ing that the death and destruction were by-products of the legiti­mate grievances that Arabs had with the United States, which was finally just a way of delivering a verdict for the other side in the same civilizational war.

    I see it a little differently. I believe that 9/11 was evidence of a clash all right, but the clash that led to 9/11 was less the conflict between the West and Islam than the conflict between the Arabs themselves. In that sense, strange as it sounds, the attacks on New York and Washington were not really about us.

    To be sure, a significant part of the Middle East, including Osama bin Laden, is at war expressly with the United States. And there are genuine points of conflict between the lands of Islam and the West, including a religious rivalry that dates back to the appear­ance of the Quran and myriad regional confrontations to which the United States’ strategic interests make us party. But these conflicts are just part of a system of wars that involves the entire Middle East. We are now incontrovertibly a part of these wars, but their causes and sources are to be found in the region itself, and not at the lower end of Manhattan, or even in the halls of the Pentagon. September 11 is the day we woke up to find ourselves in the middle of a clash of Arab civilizations, a war that used American cities as yet another venue for Arabs to fight each other.

    *

    If that assertion sounds implausible, it’s because Americans are accustomed to thinking of themselves, in one way or another, as the source of the tumult in the Middle East. And that feeling was magnified after 9/11, when the continued eruptions of violence in the region made it hard for observers, from ordinary Americans to inter­national affairs specialists, not to assume that the Bush administra­tion was mostly, if not wholly, responsible for what was happening. But the problems of the region will not fade now that Barack Obama is in the White House, because they did not start when George W. Bush arrived there. Consider just a few of the clashes that preceded Bush’s tenure: the intrastate Arab crises like Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and Syria’s occupation of Lebanon (1990–2005); the civil wars that wracked North Yemen (1962–1970) and Lebanon...
About the Author-
  • Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard. He has written for Slate, theNew York Times, the Boston Globe, the New Republic, as well as for a variety of major Arab media outlets. He is also a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. A native of New York, he currently resides in Washington, DC.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 2, 2009
    Smith, Middle East correspondent for the Weekly Standard
    , argues that it was tensions within the Middle East—not a clash of civilizations, American policies in the region or the creation of Israel—that prompted the attacks on September 11. He writes, “In believing that 300 million Arabs had really lined up as one against America, we had been taken in by a mirage,” and he takes to task Edward Said and others he feels homogenize Arabs into a monolithic group. In the book's strongest sections, Smith looks at continuities from the pre-Islamic Arab world to the present to trace mores and differences that seep into the modern day, adding a fascinating historical angle. While he undermines his argument with a penchant for proclaiming the condition of the region to be immutable (“In the Middle East, political violence is not an anomaly. It is the normal state of affairs”), he should be lauded for his commitment and careful research. The book is compelling, well written and worth a read even—or perhaps especially—by those who would disagree with the author.

  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2009
    A view of what the"Arab street" has to say about current affairs—the only problem being, as the author notes, there's not any such thing.

    By Weekly Standard Middle East correspondent Smith's account, the Arab world is fragmented, rife with divisions and plagued by poor leadership on all sides. The author also claims that 9/11 was a manifestation less of the war between America and Islam—he means, perhaps, Islamism—than of that among Arab factions, which means"strange as it sounds, the attacks on New York and Washington were not really about us." Perhaps, but the attacks killed many Americans and led to the deaths of many Arabs, notably in Iraq. Smith does well to reiterate the fact that the Arab world is not monolithic and that not everyone is a suicide bomber. Some of his neoconnish prescriptions will seem comforting to those who urge that we take the war to the enemy—whoever the enemy really is—rather than have al-Qaeda march down the streets of Washington, and he casts them in fire-and-brimstone terms well suited to monotheistic climes:"he who punishes enemies and rewards friends, forbids evil and enjoins good, is entitled to rule, and no other." Smith's book quickly betrays its origins as a loosely assembled collection of journalistic pieces, some ephemeral, others more substantial. It is pleasant, but not terribly revealing, to know that the actor Omar Sharif has opinions about the purity of the Arabic language, and a little more useful but still disjointed to work Edward Said's notions of orientalism into the discussion.

    Smith could have smoothed his narrative into a more coherent story, but he offers a somewhat provocative look at an endlessly troubled region.

    (COPYRIGHT (2009) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Booklist

    December 15, 2009
    Smith, the Middle East correspondent for the Weekly Standard, offers a new (and unsettling) take on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the sociopolitical situation that led to them. The attacks, the author asserts, were not so much about a war between the West and Islam as they were about conflicts among the various Arab factions. The book, which gets its title from an Osama bin Laden quote (When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will take the strong horse), not only explores just the political events that led up to 9/11 but also argues the position that the attacks were not really about the U.S. but, rather, were an expression of political strength in a war on the other side of the world. This notion may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, but Smith marshals his evidence carefully and convincingly. The book might not be for the casual readerits rather dry and requires considerable knowledge of world politics to followbut for those with an interest in the subject, it makes for eye-opening, thought-provoking, and perhaps even controversial reading.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2009, American Library Association.)

  • The Christian Science Monitor

    "Succinct and accessible. . . . An important read for anyone interested in the Middle East."

  • The Jerusalem Post "Masterful. . . . A unique and vital addition to the current debate on the Middle East."
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch "In-depth. . . . Provocative. . . . Worth a few evenings of serious reading. . . . "Smith writes clearly and tersely, and his respect and affection for his Arab friends in the Middle East come through clearly."
  • The New York Times Book Review "[Smith] treats us to beautifully written portraits of his Arab friends, individuals who illustrate far better than finely wrought theory the difficulties of practical reform."
  • Commentary "Lively. . . . Illuminating. . . . An amalgam of travel journalism, memoir, popular history, and policy-musing. . . . The Strong Horse avoids policy prescriptions--a dime a dozen in books about the Middle East--and instead relies on a series of sharply observed episodes, deftly arranged to demonstrate a civilization in perpetual crisis."
  • The Weekly Standard "[Smith] has drawn some interesting--and in some respects encouraging--conclusions in this fascinating, complicated, eloquent study. . . . [He] makes a compelling case that the United States must understand the ancient conflicts and enmities that animate the Arabs, but must also understand that America, alone among world powers, is uniquely qualified to guide the Arab world out of its troubled past. . . . This is a plea, in effect, for confident, assertive American leadership in the Arab Middle East."
  • Daniel Pipes, National Review "Excellent. . . . An entertaining yet deep and important analysis. . . . Smith's simple and near-universal principle provides a tool to comprehend the Arabs' cult of death, honor killings, terrorist attacks, despotism, warfare, and much else."
  • Publishers Weekly "Fascinating. . . . [Smith] should be lauded for his commitment and careful research. The book is compelling, well written and worth a read even--or perhaps especially--by those who would disagree with the author."
  • Reason Magazine "A bold and significant book that refreshingly rejects the conventional wisdom about the Middle East."
  • American Diplomacy "The arguments put forward [by Smith] are desperately needed as an antidote to the lock step shibboleths and conventional wisdom that form the basis of much of the scholarship of U. S. Middle East studies. Much of the conventional wisdom that forms the basis of our understanding of the Arab world is challenged here, and rightly so."
  • Claremont Review of Books "Blunt. . . . Bracing. . . . Helps to puncture the naïveté of the anti-American Left, liberal internationalists, and prodemocratization conservatives."
  • Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of Am "The Strong Horse is hard to describe and even harder to put down. Lee Smith has concocted an addictive and original brew of reportage, memoir, and political analysis that casts the Middle East and its relations with the 'Great Satan' in a fresh and fascinating light. Writing about his meetings with everyone from Omar Sharif to Natan Sharansky, he delivers one shrewd insight after another. Anyone seeking to understand the world's most volatile region should read this timely and entertaining book."
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Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations
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