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Bernard Lewis revises Bernard Lewis (says he opposed invasion of Iraq!)

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Bernard Lewis
Bernard Lewis

I take this as a good sign: it’s now a blot on your resume to have supported the Iraq war. Cowardly lion Bernard Lewis, 95, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, says that he privately opposed invading Iraq, but didn’t pipe up, even as he was calling for a military takeover of the country and as Cheney was quoting him on television. Here (and below, excerpt) the Wall Street Journal documented his many calls for invasion. When are Ken Pollack and Tom Friedman going to explain that they also were against the war, but didn’t pipe up? CHE’s Evan R. Goldstein interview:

After 9/11, Lewis became an occasional visitor to the vice president’s home and office, and on the eve of the war Cheney went on Meet the Press and name-checked the professor. “I firmly believe, along with men like Bernard Lewis, who is one of the great students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, toward calming things in that part of the world.”

Lewis’s reported influence in Washington reached an apotheosis in February 2004, when The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about how 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.”

In his living room, Lewis seems uninterested in rehashing recent history. He listens patiently, stone-faced. His disagreement with the Bush administration, he explains with a sigh, was not over the goal (regime change), but the tactic (full-scale invasion). Lewis says he argued for recognizing the leadership in northern Iraq as the country’s legitimate government and arming those forces if necessary. In the decade since the first Persian Gulf war, he says, Kurds and Arabs had managed to build a nascent democracy under the protection of the no-fly zone.

“That was the way to do it,” he says. “Simply to invade was the wrong way to do it, and I thought so and said so at the time.” Why didn’t he speak out before the invasion? “I didn’t feel at that crucial moment that it was right to take a public stance against the war.”

Here is that Wall Street Journal piece from 2004, documenting Lewis’s call for invasion:

Eight days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with the Pentagon still smoldering, Mr. Lewis addressed the U.S. Defense Policy Board. Mr. Lewis and a friend, Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi — now a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council — argued for a military takeover of Iraq to avert still-worse terrorism in the future, says Mr. Perle, who then headed the policy board.

A few months later, in a private dinner with Dick Cheney at the vice president’s residence, Mr. Lewis explained why he was cautiously optimistic the U.S. could gradually build democracy in Iraq, say others who attended. Mr. Lewis also held forth on the dangers of appearing weak in the Muslim world, a lesson Mr. Cheney apparently took to heart. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” just before the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Cheney said: “I firmly believe, along with men like Bernard Lewis, who is one of the great students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, toward calming things in that part of the world.”

The Lewis Doctrine, in effect, had become U.S. policy.

Bernard Lewis has been the single most important intellectual influence countering the conventional wisdom on managing the conflict between radical Islam and the West,” says Mr. Perle, who remains a close adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “The idea that a big part of the problem is failed societies on the Arab side is very important. That is not the point of view of the diplomatic establishment.”..

After Sept. 11, a book by Mr. Lewis called “What Went Wrong?” was a best-seller that launched the historian, at age 85, as an unlikely celebrity. Witty and a colorful storyteller, he hit the talk-show and lecture circuits, arguing in favor of U.S. intervention in Iraq as a first step toward democratic transformation in the Mideast. Historically, tyranny was foreign to Islam, Mr. Lewis told audiences, while consensual government, if not elections, has deep roots in the Mideast. He said Iraq, with its oil wealth, prior British tutelage and long repression under Saddam Hussein, was the right place to start moving the Mideast toward an open political system.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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19 Responses

  1. pabelmont on April 23, 2012, 11:27 am

    Show him up as an early war-monger and imperialist — now claiming, not very believably, also to be a coward who feared to speak up — and as a real dummy on likely outcomes of USA military intervention in Iraq.

    Whereas men like Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and Juan Cole were presumably ignored because their sympathies were with truth, justice, human rights, and everything that opposed anti-human-rights, imperialist, military intervention.

  2. Pixel on April 23, 2012, 11:36 am


    Generations will soon be changing.

  3. Les on April 23, 2012, 11:42 am

    Lewis’ correction of his bad judgement about the invasion of Iraq is what the rest of us call hindsight.

    • marc b. on April 23, 2012, 1:01 pm


      or a deathbed confession of sorts. a prospective good riddance. one less creep to cheerlead for the next war. not that he can’t be easily replaced by another opportunistic sociopath in academia.

  4. Nevada Ned on April 23, 2012, 12:47 pm

    Bernard Lewis is really a specialist in Turkey, but of course he considers himself an expert on everything. For example, he endorsed the book by Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial, which claimed that Palestine was uninhabited when the first Zionists arrived.
    Lewis has been a longtime supporter of using force against Arabs, because “that’s the only language they understand”, meaning that’s the policy the US practices and Lewis endorses. The 2003 Second Persian Gulf War is not the exception, it’s the rule.

    By the way, in France it is a crime to “deny the Holocaust”. Lewis has denied that Turkey’s slaughter of the Armenians constitutes a “genocide”, and not surprisingly Lewis was convicted in absentia in a French court of Holocaust denial. The whole thing may sound ridiculous to most of us, but it’s tied up with Turkey’s membership in the EU and Turkey’s grants to its supporters in the US.

  5. lysias on April 23, 2012, 1:10 pm

    It’s been a long time since I read Lewis’s 2002-3 books What Went Wrong? and The Crisis of Islam, but my recollection is that he said Iraqis would welcome an American invasion. Can anybody confirm this?

  6. hass on April 23, 2012, 2:20 pm

    Huh? Wasn’t this the same Lewis who said Arabs should be smacked in the forehead since they respect power, and that the Iranians would unleash an apocalypse in Aug 2006?

    • marc b. on April 23, 2012, 3:47 pm

      that’s funny, hass. talk about your orientalism. poor bernard with his corinthian leather special edition of sir richard burton’s translation of such-and-such text, blankets pulled over his head, reading by flashlight, scaring himself shitless over some nonsensical ‘prophetic’ date. i mean what was he worried about in 2006? everyone knows that the apocalypse will happen in 2012.

      • eGuard on April 23, 2012, 4:44 pm

        (I recommend these two posts. How else can I do so?)

      • stevieb on April 25, 2012, 11:59 am

        Me too, eGuard. Bernard Lewis was the neo-con darling – hell the American media’s darling – for a while after 9/11. I can remember getting literally dozen’s of comments recommending I read the ‘great’ Bernard Lewis if I wanted to ‘understand the Middle East’…

  7. DICKERSON3870 on April 23, 2012, 2:28 pm

    RE: “Cowardly lion Bernard Lewis, 95, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, says that he privately opposed invading Iraq, but didn’t pipe up, even as he was calling for a military takeover of the country and as Cheney was quoting him on television. Here the Wall Street Journal documented his many calls for invasion…” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: How dare you retrieve this stuff from the ‘memory hole’! Das ist verboten! We have been instructed by the Power That Be to only look forward, NOT BACKWARDS! Furthermore, you know quite well that Big Brother, Praised Be He, has classified unauthorized retrieval of items from the ‘memory hole’ as treason of the highest order; and He has further determined that “such infractions are an existential threat to the essential maintenance of public order without which chaos and mayhem will surely ensue!”
    In certain instances such grievous infractions can be overlooked (entirely at the discretion of Big Brother). However, since you, Mr. Philip Weiss, are manifestly not a team player, you will be “dealt with” most severely! MOST SEVERELY!

    ON YouTube: BBC Television’s live production of George Orwell’s “NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR”. Produced in 1954. (VIDEO, 1:47:30)
    • LINK –

    • ALSO OF INTEREST: Wunschkonzert & Blinkfeuer Heimat.wmv (VIDEO, 05:24) –
    RE: “Wunschkonzert & Blinkfeuer Heimat”
    FREE TRANSLATION: Wish concert & blink fire homeland
    GOOGLE TRANSLATION: Request Concert & flashing lights home

    Google translation of the description of the video at YouTube:

    (excerpt) The request program for the armed forces was the most popular broadcast of broadcasting in Nazi Germany. The three-hour concert was until 1941 in the winter half-year broadcast twice weekly from the House of Broadcasting in Berlin from the large concert hall of all German stations and should reach the German soldiers on all fronts. With the supposed connection between “home and the front should be above all the perseverance will of the people and the soldiers strengthened and be distracted by the war everyday. propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who was always directly involved in the preparation of the program, gave precise guidelines for the flagship of the “Great German Radio before “. Just as important as guns and rifles are upbeat songs and life-affirming and heart-uplifting music tears dripping pathos manifested as in the songs of bassist William Strienz…

    • LASTLY: A photo of the device that allowed Goebbels to interrupt all German radio programming to make an announcement –

    • lysias on April 23, 2012, 5:39 pm

      As war propaganda movies go, Wunschkonzert is quite a good one, superior, in my opinion, to Hollywood war musicals of the time.

      • DICKERSON3870 on April 26, 2012, 7:16 pm

        Yes, unfortunately Herr Goebbels really knew his stuff. I hope to hell we never again see the likes of him!

  8. Brewer on April 23, 2012, 5:27 pm

    Lewis is just one of a plethora of “scholars” motivated by ideology (or something even darker) to fashion History into a weapon. He and the equally (well there really is no other word for it) stupid Huntington are responsible for the monolithic and malignant image of Islam that prevails among those who have neither been exposed to Muslim society nor studied Islam and the History of Islamic thought. As such, they belong in a class of opinion makers now reviled.
    No doubt many readers of this blog are already familiar with these roosters. For those who are not, here are a couple of essays:

    “The Clash of Ignorance”:

    “Bernard Lewis Revisited”

    The academic system in the West is broken. That writers such as Lewis and Huntington receive the glittering prizes, enhancing their credibility in a self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance contributes much to the decline of the West, for no system can prosper when it is based on false premises.
    My only question is: to what extent is this influence fostered by political or economic power?

  9. LeaNder on April 23, 2012, 6:58 pm

    I once noticed that Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz want to make Bernard Lewis’ books compulsory reading in every class in Middle East Studies.

    These guys are so sick. Hating Whitey ideologue David Horowitz honors Islamophobe Robert Spencer and White-America-falls-apart Charles Murray.

  10. PeaceThroughJustice on April 23, 2012, 7:05 pm

    Dershowitz tried to pull the same thing, claiming that he was always against the war. Unfortunately for him, his op-ed from Sept. 2002 is available for all to read.

    A Hawk in Drag: Dershowitz and the Iraq War
    Tim Wilkinson, January 31, 2007

  11. Mac on April 24, 2012, 3:41 am

    To really understand Lewis, you have to read “Islamophobia’s Scholarly Godfather” at

    Islamophobia’s Scholarly Godfather
    By Nabil Al-Khowaiter
    October 9, 2010

    Editor’s Note: After 9/11 – as Americans wondered “why do they hate us?” – they were fed a variety of misleading answers, including President George W. Bush’s claim that “they hate our freedoms.”

    Many Americans accepted these rationales because they had been conditioned for decades to view Arabs and Muslims as irrational and vindictive, a bigotry that was given a veneer of scholarship by Bernard Lewis, a key promoter of Islamophobia, notes Nabil Al-Khowaiter in this guest essay:

    While it may appear that Islamophobia is a new phenomenon in America – the result of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington – its roots can be traced back to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, followed by the Arab oil embargo and a quadrupling of gas pump prices.

    The oil embargo was the first time ordinary Americans were exposed to Arab and Muslim anger at the U.S. government’s military and political support for Israel’s occupation of Arab land and persecution of Palestinians.

    The Israeli Lobby had to scramble and explain Arab and Muslim anger at America without mentioning America’s unconditional support of Israel’s expansionist policies.

    Mythical reasons were developed and disseminated in the form of scholarly sounding books and essays, claiming that Arab-Muslim anger at America was not due to its enabling of Israeli expansionism but resulted from historical jealousy and rage at America’s power and prosperity as contrasted against the Middle East’s relative backwardness and weakness.

    The chief purveyor of these rationales was the godfather of modern Islamophobia, British-American professor of Middle East studies Bernard Lewis, who stepped forward as the “scholarly” salesman for Israel’s apologists.

    Lewis actually began his career in the 1930s as a genuine scholar of the Middle East, at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In the 1950s, he became famous for his extensive research of the Ottoman archives in Istanbul.

    However, his strong Zionist sentiments, which became much more obvious after he moved to Princeton University in 1974, diverted his scholarly endeavors and led him to harness his considerable intellect in the service of the Zionist cause.

    On the surface, his essays and books appeared to be neutral or even sympathetic scholarly studies on the Middle East. But he also insisted on explaining Middle East violence and anger toward Israel and the United States as the natural consequence of Islam’s centuries-old civilizational decline, rather than a reaction to day-to-day crimes being committed by Israel.

    As far back as his “The Return of Islam,” which was published in 1976 by the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary, Lewis began laying the ideological framework for justifying the use of American military power to pacify the “restless natives” of the Middle East.

    This was followed in the 1980s and 1990s by over 20 pamphleteer-style essays and books on Islamic history, including “The Roots of Muslim Rage” (1990), “The Future of the Middle East” (1997), “What Went Wrong?” (2002), and “The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror” (2003).

    While many Western scholars of the Middle East dismissed Lewis’s analysis as a simplistic and selective interpretation of Islamic history, it was that very oversimplification which made his books and essays popular.

    For example, Lewis ignored the fact that the majority of the world’s Muslims live in democratic countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Turkey and Malaysia. Instead, he focused his readers’ attention on the most arid parts of the Muslim world, which happened to be Arab, and argued that Muslim societies were totalitarian by nature.

    His preferred approach was to mix serious historical study with a psycho-babble analysis that shrank the Islamic world’s hundreds of different cultures into a single caricature of anger and hate toward everything Western and Christian.

    While spreading negative generalizations about Muslim motivations, Lewis hid his Zionist convictions behind a thin veil of scholarship and feigned sympathy for the Muslim subjects of his study.

    American historian Joel Beinin describes Lewis as “perhaps the most articulate and learned Zionist advocate in the North American Middle East academic community.” Yet few of his readers know that he is a Likud supporter and an adviser to several hard-line Israeli politicians who have consistently opposed U.S.-sponsored peace initiatives.

    On Sept. 11, 2001, when a fringe group of Muslim zealots murdered about 3,000 Americans, the U.S. public responded in a fit of anger and confusion looking for an explanation for why anybody would hate them so much.

    That was Bernard Lewis’s crowning moment, and his erstwhile neoconservative acolytes wasted no time in presenting him as the “Middle East Scholar” who would reveal the true nature of the new enemy America was facing.

    With decades of practice at misinformation behind him, it was not difficult for him to skillfully manipulate the deep anger and hurt Americans of all political stripes felt and thus put the United States on a collision course with the entire Muslim World.

    The 9/11 Commission Report determined that the animosity towards the United States felt by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks, stemmed “not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

    Yet in all his writings and speeches on the 9/11 attacks, Bernard Lewis has made no reference to this very important fact.

    As Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh commented, “it was no surprise that in the critical months of 2002 and 2003, while the Bush administration shunned deep thinking and banned State Department Arabists from its councils of power, Bernard Lewis was persona grata, delivering spine-stiffening lectures to Cheney over dinner in undisclosed locations.”

    An official who sat in on some of the Lewis-Cheney discussions recalled, “His view was: ‘Get on with it. Don’t dither.'”

    Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who strongly disagreed with the premise of Lewis’s logic, added that Lewis’ message was, “I believe that one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick. They respect power.””

    Abandoning his scholarly caution, Lewis pressed for a confrontation with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Lewis wrote a series of op-ed articles for The Wall Street Journal with titles such as “A War of Resolve” and “Time for Toppling.”

    To understand Lewis’s obsession with igniting a global war between America and the Muslim World, one needs to understand the anguish and pain he and other Jews felt as the “civilized West” looked on, before and during World War II, while their European Jews were rounded up and exterminated by the most “civilized” of Western countries.

    Former neocon Jacob Heilbrunn’s book, They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, traces the movement’s ideological origins to the unique Jewish experience that flowed from the failure of liberal democracies to prevent the Holocaust.

    In the tormented mind of Lewis and his fellow neocons, Palestinians seeking an independent state are equated with Nazis and every attempt at brokering a peace deal between Israel and her Arab neighbors becomes a new Munich.

    This observation by Heilbrunn, a repentant neocon, suggests that Lewis’s claim that Muslims harbor a centuries-old hatred for America is actually a projection of his own anger at the West for the Holocaust.

    Nabil Al-Khowaiter is the former Managing Director of Dubai-based Middle East News (MBC TV) .

  12. aiman on April 25, 2012, 6:43 am

    Bernard Lewis is the living example of how Zionism and Islamophobia are completely related. Even liberals like Amos Oz get their ideas about “the threat of Islam” from him. This is the “academic” who put “Eurabia” on the map. He shaped an entire discourse and way of thinking, his hate drips from minds like that of Sam Harris and Dick Cheney. All in all perhaps the most damaging and malignant thinker to come out of the western world (for at least the last two centuries), which he ideologically shaped into the “Judeo-Christian” world, to meet present socio-historical ends.

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