Clovis Maksoud

Clovis Maksoud

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Itseemsallthegoodonesaretaken


* Former professor of international relations
* Former director of the Center for the Study of the Global South at American University
* Viewed Zionism as the root of all Middle Eastern problems
* Blamed Israel’s “state sponsored terrorism” for Palestinians’ “sporadic reactions of despair”
* Died on May 15, 2016

Born in 1928, Lebanese national Dr. Clovis Maksoud was a professor of international relations and the director of the Center for the Study of the Global South at American University in Washington, D.C.  An attorney, journalist, and diplomat, Maksoud served as the Arab League Ambassador to India and South-East Asia from 1961-1966. In 1975-1976, he was a visiting professor at Georgetown University. From 1967-1971 he was senior editor of the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram. In 1972, he was named editor-in-chief of Al-Nahar, an Arabic-language weekly published in Beirut. From 1979 – 1990, he was the Ambassador and the Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States at the United Nations. He authored several books on the Middle East and the Third World, including: The Meaning of Non-alignment; The Crisis of the Arab Left; Reflections on Afro-Asianism; and The Arab Image.

Following the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, a time of enormous crisis in the Arab world, Maksoud declared, “We must realize that the Kuwaiti problem, the Kuwaiti invasion, is an instant priority, but this instant priority cannot let us lose sight of the constant priority. That constant priority is the Zionist program.”

This obsession with Zionism as the root of all Middle Eastern woes was a signature of Clovis Maksoud and the ideology of which he was a staunch advocate: pan-Arabism.

In the words of political science professor Adeed Dawisha, pan-Arabism at its inception was deeply influenced by European fascism, with the result that “Arab nationalists, infused with the illiberal ideas of cultural nationalism, had almost nothing to say about personal liberty and freedom.”

Thus, in keeping with his pan-Arab beliefs, Maksoud excused the excesses of assorted Arab tyrannies. For example:

Iraq: After Saddam Hussein had subjugated Kuwait just prior to the first Persian Gulf War, Maksoud argued that both sides had “legitimate” grievances and defended the authority of Saddam’s barbarous regime:

  • At Georgetown University: “Bellicose statements, whether on the part of calling Saddam Hussein ‘Hitler,’ or on the other hand that under no circumstances, like the Minister of Information of Iraq said we will not withdraw from Kuwait, this kind of polarization is leading to heightened tensions”; “Furthermore, there must develop simultaneously with this a mechanism to address and adjudicate the mutual claims, the mutual concerns, the legitimate demands of both parties.”
  • On CNN’s “Crossfire”: After being asked whether or not he would condemn Saddam’s statement calling for the overthrow of the Egyptian government, Maksoud said: “Well, I think that any kind of overthrowing anybody’s government, that is why we are eager to restore legitimacy and if we want to restore legitimacy in Kuwait, we have to protect legitimacy in Iraq.”

Therefore, when Saddam’s menacing regime was toppled in 2003, Maksoud’s opposition to the war that ended it was so intense that he spearheaded an effort to prevent the lifting of United Nations sanctions on the basis that doing so would legitimize the U.S./U.K.-led occupation of Iraq. (Prior to the liberation of Iraq, Maksoud participated in a delegation meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan demanding an end to the sanctions program).

Syria: Regarding the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, Maksoud touted the customary pan-Arab line – that Israel’s past deterrent presence in southern Lebanon was totally illegal, yet Syria’s stranglehold on Lebanon was relatively benign:

“Resistance to Israel’s occupation has been recognized as valid, justified, and legitimate, despite many reservations one might have towards the ideological tenets of Hezbollah and other resistance groups.  Besides, Lebanon and Syria are Arab states, and the circumstances of Syria’s presence in Lebanon, however distasteful to some, are different from Israel’s alien occupation.”

Palestinian Authority: At times, Maksoud glorified anti-Israeli terrorism; at other times, he equated it with Israeli counter-terrorism aimed at Palestinian terrorists. He also urged Arafat to reject Ehud Barak’s peace offer in 2000:

  • On MSNBC: “There is a fundamental and qualitative difference between resistance to occupation and . . . terrorism.  Terrorism is an act of despair.  Resistance is an act of hope and the ultimate outcome of a liberation of the independence of Palestine.”
  • In an open letter addressed to “brother” Arafat: “Your steadfastness [i.e. rejection of the Clinton peace plan] in tomorrow’s [2000 Camp David] summit would reinvigorate Palestinian national unity. It would fortify the Palestinians’ will, the bridge between negotiations and resistance … The Palestinians would be able to deal with the victory scored by the Lebanese Resistance in South Lebanon as a Lebanese version of the Palestinian intifada.”
  • From an online chat sponsored by USA Today: “The phenomena of Hamas is the same way in which the Israeli occupation has inflicted brutality and bitterness on the Palestinian population”
  • From an online chat sponsored by the Washington Post: “These acts of [Palestinian] terrorism are the sporadic reactions of despair. The state sponsored terrorism by Israel are [sic] the deliberate plans of a government policy.”

In short, no Palestinian intransigence or resort to terror was too terrible to be excused, endorsed, or even praised.

And like many of his colleagues, Maksoud was prone to confusing the usual batch of conspiracy theories with facts. Maksoud wrote, “…the attack on Iraq was planned by the pro-Israeli cabal” and predatory “American Likudniks.”  As for September 11, he said that “the Likudniks within the Bush administration [treated it] as an interruption of their plans to strike at Iraq” to “ensure an enhanced strategic superiority of Israel in the region.”

Maksoud met all of the requirements of a prototypical Middle East “expert”: he was wedded to an anti-Western authoritarian ideology, prone to anti-Israeli diatribes, and blinded by moral and intellectual casuistry when it comes to understanding terrorism.

Maksoud died from a cerebral hemorrhage on May 15, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Much of this profile is adapted from the article “Pan-Arabism and the Professor,” written by Zachary Constantino and published by on October 6, 2004.

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