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Equus …

In early January, Lee Smith’s new book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, will be available in bookstores. Here are some of the first reviews, as well as a little known back-story about the author, according to a certain Dr. Martin Dysart.

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.”

- Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.


“Lee Smith is a free-thinker in an age of herd mentalities. The Strong Horse is a powerful book—trenchant, shrewd, informed, vivid, provocative, and full of a wisdom that is not the conventional wisdom.”

– Paul Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism.

“In The Strong Horse, Lee Smith lets readers see beyond the stereotypes by which Western academics have misunderstood, and Western governments have mishandled, the Middle East. Based on wide-ranging conversations in the Arab world as well as on a dispassionate understanding of its intellectual and political history, he shows how the tribal nature of Arab societies combines with Islam to produce a way of life in which force is the ultimate argument. The Strong Horse is a fascinating journey from Cairo’s cafes to the Gulf’s business offices, to Lebanon and Syria’s countryside, and into the region’s seminal literature.”

- Angelo M. Codevilla, Professor emeritus of international relations, Boston University.

“Lee Smith is the rarest of Middle East commentators, an observer without any ax to grind, whose book is a hammer shattering many of the blithe pieties about the Middle East that prevail in academia, government, and the media.”

– Peter Theroux, former Director of Persian Gulf Affairs, National Security Council.

“A chronicle of one American’s journey to the Middle East in search of an answer to the question “why 9/11?”,  The Strong Horse offers a fascinating depiction of a culture so different from our own that it is a challenge for us to understand just how great this difference is. Lee Smith has faced this challenge, and the insights he offers require nothing less than a radical paradigm shift in American thinking about the Middle East. If we wish to shape history, and not be run over by it, there is no better place to start than by reading Lee Smith’s beautifully crafted and deeply moving journey of discovery.”

– Lee Harris, author of Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West and Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History.

“Here I am. Find me. Find me. Kill me. Kill me. Find me, and kill me. Kill me. Find me, and kill me. Find me, and kill me. Find me, and kill meeeeeeee.”

- Alan Strang, as performed during an Arab production of Equus in Maroun al-Ras.

And from Dr. Martin Dysart, the following exclusive report:

Those familiar with Mr. Smith’s writings on the Arab World in Slate, the National Review, the Weekly Standard and other periodicals had long diagnosed the author as suffering from a kind of hoof-and-mouth disease.

Veterinarian specialists on matters hoven, however, have now determined his condition is more accurately a peculiar strain of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). EEE is most likely caused by exposure to a rare breed of mosquito (aedes nowus libanus), a species found mostly in the eastern Mediterranean region.

As larvae, the Aedes Nowus Libanus mosquitos glow red and green when they are hungry.

The medical science community remains divided on the history of the disease. Some trace EEE to reported incidences of dementia among the troops of Napoleon’s Egypt expedition. Others dismiss such lineage, suggesting that those individual cases often involved French cavalrymen, who had a very practical justification for their obsession with enemy horses – the most dramatic symptom of the disease. Moreover, they argue, those suffering similar symptoms in the nineteenth century often knew Arabic and had actually read books about the region, the only two known vaccinations for today’s EEE.

The latest research posits EEE as an unexpected mutation or possible genetic combination of similar viruses first reported in Lebanon after 1967. As scientists dispute the history of EEE, as well as its basic physiology, medical doctors have largely diagnosed the disease based on the appearance of certain common symptoms. The first of which include: a fevered mind, sensitivity to the Arabic language, manic bouts of excitement and depression, Islamophobia, increased thirst for beverages commonly found in Tel Aviv beachside cafes, a mental fixation on ethnology and religious irredentism, neighing, political tribalism, and an attraction to caramel skin and other sugary confections.

As the virus grows inside a host, more serious symptoms occur. Reported are: an irrational form of American-Zionism, psycho-sexual babble about Arab societies, a preference for elections and civil rights when it suits Israel’s national security prerogatives, zoological analytic frameworks for human communities and an unending search for unrepresentative anecdotes that confirm one’s inner delusions.

At its most advance stage, EEE causes an unnatural obsession with horses, characterized by a kind of equine worldview in which all political phenomena appear as horses, surging and falling behind based on the strength, speed and genetic superiority. Over time, this fixation develops into horse worship, wherein the patient increasingly attempts to make communion with his horse-breeding god by either figuratively or literally taking on equine traits, including neighing, certain dietary habits, galloping and sexual attraction to what they believe to be “other horses.”

There is no known cure, and three quarters of survivors suffer from neurological sequalae for the rest of their lives.

To date, forensic pathologists have struggled to identify the exact circumstances under which Mr. Smith contracted the virus. One Lebanese physician suggested that Mr. Smith may have been first infected during a riding weekend in Mukhtara. “I cannot say 2007 for sure,” said Dr. I.M. Shaheen, “but I did notice an immediate preference for fevered zoological rhetoric after his short time with a notable Druze horse-trader.”

Others have speculated that his exposure to the EEE virus occurred much earlier and point to a late-night of carousing in Beirut’s Gemaizeh district that allegedly left him and his friends shirtless and asleep face-down in a Nahr Beirut puddle for several hours. A Lebanese woman in jodpurs was reportedly involved, or so gossiped a member of Beirut’s notoriously unreliable foreign journalist junta, who may well been describing his own misadventure.

Colleague and co-EEE-sufferer, Michael Totten, indicated that Smith’s symptoms were already noticeable in late 2006 during an Off-Track-Betting conference in Herzliya, Israel. “He kept shouting ‘the Syrians watered the track, the Syrians watered the track,’” Totten said. “He then neighed uncontrollably in the arms of an Israeli Military Intelligence officer and refused any sugar cubes.”

His condition reportedly worsened in late May 2008, with reports of him spray painting a Lebanese flag he had acquired during his travels with the words “horse killer” in dark sky blue. Close friends have recalled the period as a dark one, saying he retreated to seclusion, adopted a hay-only diet and incessantly painted oils of yellow horses galloping menacingly through Beirut.

Smith painted under the brushname Franz Marc (d. 1916), a German Expressionist and member of Der Blaue Reiter, believed to be the first Western group to support Hariri's blue-themed Future Movement and their M14 allies.

With the virus showing no signs of dormancy, Smith turned to Ukrainian epidemiologist Natan Sharansky, a longtime friend who had helped him during an especially vicious flare up of symptoms in the summer of 2006. Sharansky, who had earned his renown for treating so afflicted cowboys in the 1600 Pennsylvania region, advised Smith to retreat to the Hudson Institute for Eugenics and Equestria in New York City so that he might finish his book on “Arab culture.”

Once stable-keeper Sheldon Adelson agreed to pick up the bill for his convalescence, Smith heeded Sharansky’s advice, hoping that he would regain his strength by being around individuals who had found fortune riding Iraqi horses from Hampstead Heath to Baghdad.

And there, he remains. And in fairly good spirits, according to longtime horse counselor Uzi Arad. “He still wakes up in the middle of the night shouting: ‘damn you, Black Beauty, you are weak, damn you’ but writing this book has been extremely therapeutic for him.”

Rudy Giuliani, a board member of the Hudson Institute and lower Manhattan polo legend, was even more upbeat on Smith’s condition and possible recovery. “I see him up, back in the saddle and out riding Persian horses by 2012. At the latest.”

In a matter of days, almost spontaneously it seemed, a small group of tradesmen set up shop on the fringe of each unit area. Usually there would be a barber, a shoe shine boy, a family collecting laundry and repairing clothing, and someone collecting films to be processed, selling stationery, etc. These people were polite, friendly, and scrupulously honest. Outside our CP area, the service included a booth where orders for merchandise from a Beirut department store could be ordered using catalogues. As a matter of control, we decided to issue permits to all these entrepreneurs, as we did with all the local people we hired. To discourage proliferation, we decided to charge a fee for these permits, but we could only do this if we had a properly established unit fund, and all unit funds were supposed to have been turned in before we left Germany. As luck would have it, one unit, Troop C, 17th Cavalry, had failed to do so. After we started issuing permits, these tradespeople showed me noticeably more deference.They figured I was now getting my cut, which is an ancient and honorable custom in the Middle East. The money was used to buy various items for the soldiers not available through Army supply channels. Specifically, I recall books on the history of Lebanon for I & E classes, horseshoes for a competition, and a bass fiddle for our hillbilly band.

A US Marine enjoys Lebanon's beaches in 1958.

An Exchange …

One day, George Habbash, who was as radical a person as there was, who was aggrieved as a Palestinian leader can be, got up and said, “Mr. Jungers, you are head of the largest oil company in the world. You have all kinds of money, you have all kinds of power”- -everybody knew Aramco- -“you should be doing more. We all think that. We’ve heard all of your stories about American public opinion and all of this. With all of this money, there are only one hundred senators, why don’t you just buy them off?” [laughter]

My answer was- -I had learned a lot of these answers in the course of my career- -the way you deal with them is to say, “Well, I thought of that, but it’s a very difficult thing to do in the United States. You probably don’t know that. But if we are going to go that route, my conclusion is that it might be quicker, easier, and cheaper to buy all of you guys off.”

So recalled Frank Jungers, former CEO of Aramco (italics are mine).

Jungers, an Oregon native, spent time in Lebanon during and after the construction of Tapline, the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, which travelled over 1,000 miles from Saudi Arabia to Sidon, Lebanon. When it became operational in the early 1950s, it was the largest oil pipeline in the world, with all the geo-strategic and geo-political implications such would entail.

I culled the above-quote from an oral history project at UC-Berkeley. I stumbled across it because I am re-reading Irene Gendzier’s 1997 book, Notes from the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon, 1945-58. The book is treasure-trove of original documents (diplomatic cables, and the like), but the author’s use of them is often problematic.

Still, that book and the oral histories do provide a fascinating glimpse into a lost world:

Americans play golf at the Zahrani Country Club near Sidon.

Can you imagine Hassan Nasrallah meeting with the head of Halliburton, and sharing a laugh? Me neither. Actually, the imperfections of such a contemporary analogy had me recalling the late Malcolm Kerr’s comment that after 1967, Arab politics were no longer fun.

Colonial nostalgics aside, something there is.

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