Remembering Hume Horan (1934-2004)
from Middle East Quarterly, December 15, 2004
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Editor's preface: Ambassador Hume Alexander Horan passed away on July 22, 2004, in Fairfax, Virginia, at age sixty-nine. A statesmen and a scholar, Horan was perhaps the most accomplished Arabic linguist to serve in the U.S. Foreign Service.
Horan studied his Arabic in Lebanon and Libya and was stationed in Baghdad, Amman, and Jeddah before he won a series of ambassadorial posts in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and the Ivory Coast.
I came to know Horan late in his life when he stepped out of retirement to return to Baghdad with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). While many career diplomats remained inside the coalition's heavily secured palace headquarters, Horan traveled the country with minimal security. CPA Administrator L. Paul Bremer smilingly referred to Horan as his "pet Bedouin." Many U.S. diplomats say they speak Arabic, but Horan was fluent. He won Iraqi hearts and minds as he switched from any number of colloquial dialects to classical Arabic poetry in an instant. While spurning every other U.S. official, Grand Ayatollah ‘Ali Sistani agreed to meet with Horan. Fate would not allow it, as a riot led by Muqtada al-Sadr erupted on the streets of Najaf as the rendezvous was to occur. According to Scott Carpenter, who served as director of governance in the CPA, "Hume was always the voice of experience who knew enough about the Middle East to be skeptical that a democracy could be built on the banks of the Euphrates but realistic enough to know that such an effort was necessary." For his work in the Coalition Provisional Authority, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld awarded Horan the Defense Department's Distinguished Public Service Award.
Horan was a living repository of modern Middle Eastern history. He witnessed the 1970 attempt by Palestinian insurgents to overthrow King Hussein of Jordan and manned the State Department's Libya desk when Mu'ammar Qadhafi seized power in Tripoli. Horan served in Khartoum when an Islamist coup ended Sudan's brief flirtation with democracy, and he played a key role in the airlift of the Falashas, Ethiopian Jews, to Israel.
Horan's clash with State Department Arabists ended in his recall from Saudi Arabia at the request of King Fahd. As Robert Kaplan explained in The Arabists:
Horan reflected on his recall:
Horan remained active in Middle Eastern scholarship until the end. Among his other activities, he published in this journal (see below) and was a leading candidate for the editorship of the Middle East Quarterly when the position opened this past spring, withdrawing his application only upon learning the advanced stage of his illness, in May. In honor of Hume Horan's service and memory, the Middle East Quarterly presents selections of his thoughts in his own words:
Extract from Oral History of Ambassador Hume Horan, Recorded and Transcribed at the Foreign Service Institute, October 2000.
Q: What was the situation in Jordan when you arrived [in July 1970]?
Horan: It was almost as bad as it could be. Our military attaché had been assassinated a month before by one of the radical Palestinian groups—George Habbash's PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], probably. They had come to his house and shot him through the door. With that, Amman became an unaccompanied post [no dependents, that is] … I went on to Amman, and the family stayed in Washington. The streets of Amman were full of "Guerrilleros," from one Palestinian faction or the other. All of them bristling with arms. "Miles Gloriosus!" They were terribly abusive. They would steal from tradespeople and give them a lot of lip. After they took over the [Intercontinental] Hotel, a long-suffering businessman described them as "Abtal al-Fanaadiq, wa laa al-Khanaadiq," i.e., "Heroes of the hotels and not of the trenches." The police didn't dare to intervene. They were of no consequence, and besides, many were also Palestinians. They found themselves pulled in two directions. The guerrillas went out of their way to show disdain for the army. The army, especially the East Bank combat units, was smoldering. At one point the king reviewed a tank unit, and the lead tank commander rolled with a brassiere fluttering from his tank's antenna. It was a very dicey time.
Q: This was when you arrived. What was the sort of thinking in Washington just before you got there, that Jordan was going down?
Horan: Yes. All the indicators were downward. Nuri Sa'id was long-gone; Naguib had been replaced by Nasser—who was blowing fire and brimstone across the Arab world; King Idris was history; and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] factions were the darling of Arab intellectuals and the Arab street. King Hussein was extraordinarily isolated. Washington wondered how could Hussein last, with half of Jordan's population being Palestinian, a hostile Syria to the north, an Iraqi tank division encamped at the Jordanian oasis of Al-Azraq, and every Arab under twenty thinking him a stooge for Zionism and Western imperialism? Arabic is wonderful for scurrilous invective …
Q: I heard [Ambassador L. Dean Brown] had to go to the palace in an armored troop carrier or something [during the Black September uprising] ...
Horan: With yours truly. Yes, after the fighting had broken out. You know, sometimes your nose gets there before your brain. Every day, I'd go wandering around downtown, just to have the feel of the place. Talk to booksellers, small tradesmen I knew. But one afternoon everything was closed. Dead. It all looked and felt creepy. Ambassador Brown would hold a "sitrep" meeting each afternoon, around 5:00 p.m. I went to the meeting and said "Mr. Ambassador, I've been all over downtown. I've never seen the town look quite so silent, keyed up, ready to go. I think I'd better spend the night here in the embassy." I had previously spent a number of nights in the office when things looked especially tense. You know, so that we didn't get cut off from communications and stuff. He said, "You're on target. We have just gotten word from the palace that the army is going to move against the fedayeen early tomorrow morning." There had been a standoff with a new prime minister, an "accommodationist." But faced with what looked to be a new ultimatum from the PLO, the king decided enough was enough.
We spent that night in the chancery and the next seven or eight days, too.
Fighting broke out the next morning. The firing at and around the chancery was sometimes intense. The windows, shutters, and upper floors of the chancery were just riddled with bullets ... In the evenings, everybody slept on the ground floor, in an interior room, on a carpet of mattresses. Fetid. I'd quietly go upstairs and sleep on the floor in my office. We only had a little bit of water every day. Water was rationed. I used a little bit of my water to wash my collar and my cuffs. Every day I had my tie on. The whole embassy found it humorous, in an affectionate sort of way: "Hume has got his stupid clean shirt on. His collar and his cuffs look just fine." I'd say, "Well, if I have got to work, I just like to look clean, even if I'm not."
As we rolled on up to the palace, I kept thinking: "I hope we have a good breakfast." It was excellent. I remember orange juice, and sausages, and scrambled eggs. The ambassador then presented credentials to the king. It was totally informal. Then we relocated to an AID [United States Agency for International Development] building near the Queen Mother's.
Q: Did the king say anything about what was happening?
Horan: And how! Yes! The king said: "Tell your government to stay with me, and I'll stay with you. This is my country. I am going to win. The PLO is going to lose. My army loves me. Don't worry. I will not do a Farouq on you Americans or on my people." He clearly meant what he said, because just days before, the Syrians had invaded from the north, while the Iraqis were behaving menacingly at el-Azraq. At the time, we'd wondered whether the Jordanians could handle threats from three fronts—in Amman, from Syria, and from Iraq.
Q: Well, also the Israelis were cranking up to do something, too.
Horan: You got it; you got it. This was contingency numero uno. It was pretty clear that if the king looked to be going under, the Israelis would not allow a radical Iraqi-cum-Syrian-cum-Palestinian state to pop up on the West Bank. There was a lot of very sensitive traffic back and forth between us and the Israelis and the Jordanians as to who might do what if certain things happened. Some of these exchanges have surfaced recently in FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] declassifications. There were some serious cards on the table. But in the event, the Jordanian air force and armor beat the Syrians and kept the Iraqis in place. The Jordanian military was just better trained and led than its opponents.
Extract from Robert Kaplan, The Arabists.
On helping airlift Ethiopian Jews from Khartoum to Tel Aviv: I felt that at that moment we were really behaving like Americans should. That this was what the Foreign Service was all about. You know, you spend so many years working on this policy and that policy whose effects wither away, and it's rare that you get the opportunity to do a good deed, a sheer mitzvah [good deed]. No matter what was going to happen to these people, you knew they were going to be better off where they were going than where they were.
Extract from Hume Horan, "Saudi Arabia: A Successful Anomaly (So Far)," The American Enterprise. 
Of all the strange forms of nationhood that fill the world today, none stands out like Saudi Arabia. It is the only country named after a family—the Sauds, who have ruled in the peninsula since the eighteenth century. In a world of competing ideologies, it is the only state that abjures them all, in favor of its version of Sunni Islam. And as for a constitution? The Saudis would reply, "Ours is the Qur'an, a constitution granted by God himself."
Outside viewers, even critics, might agree that Saudi Arabia seems, up to now, a successful anomaly. In a particularly conflict-prone region of the world, it has survived intact the destabilizing inrush of untold wealth and the challenge of ideologies. Communism, Baathism, Arab nationalism—all have come and gone. But today, Saudi Arabia, which controls two-thirds of the world's oil, is threatened from within by jihadist Islam, the movement that includes Al-Qaeda. So a serious question for the U.S. is: How much help can we expect from Saudi Arabia against a common threat which is, however, Muslim? …
When I arrived in 1972 as deputy chief of mission of the embassy in Jiddah, FDR's and King Abdul Aziz's 1945 meeting aboard the USS Quincy seemed almost a current affair. The country was deeply conservative, but in a way that seemed almost frictionless. Foreign diplomats and businessmen could live as Westerners in their compounds and enjoy folkloric forays into the town and countryside. By the time I left in 1977, Jiddah had become a city of cranes, as the U.S. Corps of Engineers went about its job of terraforming Saudi Arabia, the new El Dorado. Oil prices had quadrupled after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the Arab oil boycott.
My Saudi friends were smug. The true faith had—no surprise—bested "godless communism." Friends would ask: How could an ideology produced by a German Jew (Marx) or another by some Arab Christian (Baath Party founder Michel Aflaq) hold its own against God's revelation? Nor did they believe Saudi society needed lessons in democracy from the morally ambiguous West. It was no accident that God had revealed his Qur'an in Arabia, and afterwards had blessed the kingdom with such economic and social justification. Per capita income was close to rivaling that of the U.S. Many Saudi friends saw the kingdom as a theodicy, "an end of history." Some were astonished that I, who had extensive knowledge of their culture, did not become a Muslim. The minister of defense, Prince Sultan, passed word that if I converted, he would give my son, born in 1975, Saudi citizenship. (I thanked him for his offer, but explained that I—however misguidedly—could not part with the faith of my fathers.)
The Saudis were not altogether mistaken in their self-congratulation. Their ideology had in fact shown remarkable resilience. A foreign ministry friend once explained that Westerners were wrong in supposing that there were no political parties in Saudi Arabia. There was a single, all-powerful party, one that operated far, far better than Nasser's comic-opera "Arab Socialist Union" or the communism of the USSR. That party was the royal family. It could count on the loyalty—ensured by blood ties, not ideology—of 10,000 princes …
The extremists' seizure of the Mosque of Mecca in 1979, however, might have warned the Saudi government of problems inherent in making Islam a formal pillar of the state. But when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the same year, the Saudis pushed ahead even more vigorously with their Islamic "public diplomacy." They stuck with what in their eyes was a winner.
In 1987, when I returned as chief of mission, the Saudi government was proud to stand at the head of an anticommunist crusade for the liberation of Afghanistan, fueled by Saudi (and American) money and more than a few Saudi volunteers. I recall a visit to Riyadh in which CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] Director William Casey presented King Fahd with a Kalashnikov. Its stock featured a brass plaque explaining that the weapon had been taken from the body of a Russian officer. Mr. Casey might as well have been giving the keys to the kingdom of God itself. The king rose, flourished the weapon, and struck a martial pose. The last Soviet forces left Afghanistan in 1989. The kingdom could rightly share in the triumph.
In 1991, operations "Desert Shield" and "Desert Storm" again gave Saudis reason to see themselves as uniquely favored by God. We had (of course) dispatched a mighty army to rescue them from Saddam Hussein. Our military officers in Arabia observed that our sacrifices were received by the Saudis as no less than their due.
By the 1990s, however, internal pressures on the regime grew. Saudi Arabia's population had begun to double every seventeen years. But these additions to the work force had neither marketable skills nor a significant work ethic. Per capita incomes slumped … Millions of young men—isolated from any normal contact with women—seethed with sexual frustration. Saudi wives, mured [sic] in nasty bungalows, suffered from depression. The tragedies of some American women married to Saudis gave the embassy occasional but instructive insights into the pathology of Saudi folkways. The U.S. was rarely of help to these women.
U.S. discussions with Saudis at the highest levels often dealt with security, military sales, economic cooperation, and sometimes intelligence exchanges. But in the back of the king's mind was the belief that, so long as the kingdom remained helpful in oil production and pricing (20 percent of U.S. oil imports come from Saudi Arabia) and in purchasing billions of dollars of U.S. military equipment and training, he could deflect our requests on domestically sensitive issues (such as kidnapped American children) to an always-later time. The record has shown the Saudis to be right.
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are now forced to confront a new common enemy: Islamic radicalism. The Saudis were at first slow in recognizing jihadist Islam as a threat. For years they practiced denial. Their reaction to the 1996 Khobar Towers attack, in which nineteen U.S. soldiers were killed, was to delay, obfuscate, and deny. So was their first reaction to 9/11: It's inconceivable that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers might have been Saudis! More recent events, such as the quadruple bombings in Riyadh in May 2003 and the suicide bombing of a security forces building in April last year—not to mention attacks on Western workers—are changing the regime's attitude. Concerning the May 2003 attacks, Crown Prince Abdullah declared, "there is no place for terror" in his country and vowed to "destroy" the group responsible. But the May 2004 attack on Al-Khobar, with twenty-two deaths, and the murder of Paul Johnson showed the Saudi government and the U.S. that the threat from Islamic terror was still active.
What can we say about the Saudi government's response? Intelligence cooperation will be nothing new … If they let the U.S. follow the big money trail, it would surely lead to some Saudis of high degree, who for various reasons gave money to Al-Qaeda. The contributors might have done so out of habit, like buying a ticket to the policemen's ball. Or to buy protection, or because they actually supported Al-Qaeda's mission. For sure, some Saudis, like many other Arabs, felt a certain schadenfreude over 9/11.
…We will have to keep up steady pressure on the Saudis and show uncommon consistency of purpose at all levels of our government. The president himself must be tough and persistent. Years of U.S. deference to the royal family have made the Saudis uncommonly resistant to requests by ambassadors and the State Department.
Extract from personal e-mail, November 2003.
On Muqtada al-Sadr: "Arrest him, anytime, anyplace, as soon as possible. No matter what. His expanding thuggishness reinforces Iraqis' belief that we tolerate him because he divides the Shi‘ites, and thus leaves us masters of Iraqi politics and of Iraqi oil. Otherwise how could the greatest power in the world, which destroyed Saddam's mighty army, shrugged off Arab rage and the opposition of its European allies, not respond to al-Sadr's provocations? Al-Sadr has money, and many ruthless supporters; if he continues unchecked, July 1  might set off a gang war between rival militias."
On Saddam Hussein: "I bet every Iraqi politician (outside of the Sunni triangle) prays that we catch Saddam, before July 1 . So long as his pug marks can be seen in the morning around our campfire, Iraqis will not sleep soundly. And for too many reasons to enumerate, he must be killed. No Iraqi legal system could cope with Saddam alive. We can pooh-pooh the likelihood of his ever making a comeback. But just that simple word ‘comeback' must bring on a fainting spell for the likes of Governor [Iskandar] Witwit [of Hillah], who saw his brother's head hacked off in front of him."
Transfer of Sovereignty: "I don't know whether the Iraqis will be ready for independence. But after July 1, we'll honestly be able to say to ourselves, and to the world, that we left Iraq freer than we found it, that we showed an altruism that may be incomprehensible to the peoples of the Middle East, and that we gave the Iraqis a new chance to plot their destiny and make their own mistakes."
The Roots of Terrorism
Extract from Hume Horan, "Those Young Arab Muslims and Us," Middle East Quarterly.
[A]s things stand now, even if the Palestinian-Israeli dispute were quickly solved by exterior diktat, we would still be the target of alienated young Arab Muslims. Why? Because the Arabs' dispute with Israel is only a symptom of a deeper problem, one that cannot be solved by shuttle diplomacy, special envoys, or conferences at Wye Plantation.
This deeper problem exists at two levels. Superficially, it has to do with the failure of Arab political and intellectual institutions to address the needs of their young populations. How can being a citizen of Syria, or Lebanon, or Egypt, or Algeria, or Sudan give young Arabs the sense of patriotic identity that Americans get from being citizens of the United States? Arab states have little emotional hold on the loyalty of their populations; most Arab regimes are corrupt and morally discredited. This particularly applies to Saudi Arabia, which has shored itself up externally through its ties to the United States, while at home, it both has placated and suppressed opposition by giving "power of attorney" for social affairs to reactionary, xenophobic Muslim clerics (ulema). What personal attachment can Saudi Arabians—60 percent of whom are under eighteen—feel for their rulers? The king and many of the leading princes are all in their seventies and must seem more remote from most Saudis than, say, George Washington is from us.
Arab intellectuals have also failed the young Arabs. Where are the Arab Reinhold Neibuhrs, Christopher Dawsons, Karl Barths, Martin Bubers? Where are the politically engaged intellectuals who can help a young Arab make coherent, responsible sense of a troubling modern world? They scarcely exist in the Arab world. The few that even try are threatened, jailed, forced into exile—or worse. In January 1985, I contacted the Sudanese presidency to plead for the life of a freethinking Islamic reformer, Mahmud Muhammad Taha. During his trial for heresy under Muslim canon law (Shari‘a), Taha had refused to recant his liberal views and was condemned to death. I was told that the president would not speak to me and that no appeal was possible from the ruling of the religious tribunal. Taha was publicly hanged.
Accordingly, many young and sensitive Arabs—especially members of the educated elite—are deprived of moral and intellectual leadership from their own religious institutions. Bereft of meaningful guidance, they use violence to fill the void, to provide some sort of an answer—even a negative one—to "Who am I?" Jellyfishes, many of them are drawn to the rocks of Osama bin Laden's Luddite worldview.
 Robert Kaplan, The Arabists (New York: The Free Press, 1993), p. 231.