- Professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania
- States that the war on terror is an illegitimate enterprise that does nothing to diminish the terrorist threat
- Says that radical Islam is no more dangerous to Western civilization than are the threats posed by non-Muslim extremists and lawbreakers
- Has accused Israel of plotting the "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians
Born in 1949, Ian Steven Lustick is the Bess W. Heyman Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in the modern history and politics of the Middle East. He is also Associate Director of the Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict, and he sits on the Board of Michael Lerner’s publication Tikkun.
Lustick completed his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in 1976 with a dissertation titled Arabs in the Jewish State: A Study in the Effective Control of a Minority Population, which would be adapted into a book four years later.
In 1979-80 Lustick worked as a Middle East analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Since then, he has been consulted on Middle East affairs, foreign policy, and intelligence techniques by every U.S. presidential administration. He has participated in numerous projects, lectures, and consultancies for the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, and the National Security Council.
A onetime professor at Dartmouth College, Lustick is a founder and past President of the Association for Israel Studies. He served as President of the Politics and History Section of the American Political Science Association, and from 1996 to 1998 he was Director of the Ford Foundation’s Workshops on the Problematics of States and Identities.
Lustick says that the “revolutionary air of the Sixties,” when he entered young adulthood, has “affected me long term.” He has authored numerous books on Middle Eastern affairs — most notably the 2006 book Trapped in the War on Terror, in which he argues that the War on Terror (WOT) is a mindless, misguided enterprise that was initially conceived of by neo-conservatives whose aim was to establish an aggressively unilateral American foreign policy.
Lustick writes that “[t]he government’s loudly trumpeted ‘War on Terror’ is not the solution to the problem,” but rather “has become the problem.” He contends that the WOT “does not reduce public anxieties by thwarting terrorists poised to strike,” but actually “fuels those anxieties” by “stoking … public fears” and drawing Americans into “a spiraling maelstrom of fear, waste, exaggeration …” He states that “the immense costs of the War on Terror, the self-inflicted wounds we suffer from it, and its inevitable inadequacy in comparison with the threats that can be imagined, are more destructive of our national life than the acts terrorists are likely to carry out against us, no matter what we do to try to stop them.” “Our own defensive efforts,” he elaborates, can be exploited by terrorists “to do us much greater harm than they [the terrorists] could ever do themselves.”
In Lustick’s calculus, radical Islam poses no greater threat to Western civilization than do non-Muslim extremists and lawbreakers. “There is and will continue to be a terrorist threat, not only emanating from Muslim extremists abroad but from Timothy McVeigh-type fanatics at home,” he writes. “This threat will, in the fullness of time, produce some attacks and some casualties. In the world as it is, this prediction is as easy to make as the prediction that in the future airliners will crash and that ‘disgruntled’ former employees will murder former coworkers.”
Lustick has been a longtime advocate of permitting Hamas to play a major role in Palestinian politics, likening the principal objectives of that terrorist organization to those of conservative Israeli political parties. In a 1995 interview, he said: “There must be elections including Hamas if Hamas will participate, just as Tsomet and Likud are allowed to participate in Israeli elections, although they do not endorse the peace process.”
Lustick interpreted the 2006 political victory by Hamas as an indication of the Palestinian people’s eagerness to make peace with Israel — as Martin Kramer puts it, “a parallel to the Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian state.” “Hamas is mainly popular,” says Lustick, “because one of the things it is trusted to do is probably [to] be ready to live with Israel, even if not officially, for a very long time.” Turning a blind eye to the violent, genocidal mandates of the Hamas Founding Charter, Lustick maintains that Hamas merely wishes to wait “a year or two” in order to establish “a period of calm” before entering into “serious negotiations” with Israel.
A strong opponent of America’s involvement in the Iraq War, Lustick says: “This is not a war on fanatics. This is a war of fanatics — our fanatics.” He further characterizes the Iraq War as a “supply side” conflict, in the sense that 9/11 created a surplus of political capital for a neo-conservative “cabal” in the Bush administration, which in turn took America’s focus off the legitimate war on terror (in Afghanistan) and redirected it toward the “criminal” invasion of Iraq.
This political capital grew, says Lustick, as a result of the U.S. military’s quick and easy victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan:
“I supported the war [in Afghanistan] but I warned that we needed a Goldilocks outcome and we didn’t get it. And what did I mean by that? What I meant was if we did not win quickly enough, if the war lasted through to the summer we would end up destabilizing Pakistan and risking nuclear events in South Asia. On the other hand, if we won too quickly, if we broke things in Afghanistan too successfully, and that’s definitely what we’re good at, we’re fantastic at breaking anything we can find—it’s putting things back together that’s the tough question—but my fear at that time was that if we broke the Taliban too fast and it was perceived in the United States that we had a quick and relatively bloodless on the American side victory, that this would give the necessary fill to that wing, that cabal in the administration. … What I wanted was a war, a Goldilocks war, not too fast and not too slow but we didn’t get it. We got one that was too fast and it gave the whip end to the cabal.”
As he prepared to speak at one antiwar rally, Lustick, intimating that anyone who opposed the war was likely to be targeted by retributive, government-sanctioned violence, unfurled an American flag as he stepped to the podium. “Every demonstration must have American flags,” he told the audience sardonically, “if only to prevent the cops from beating you.”
In December 2002 — three months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq — Lustick co-signed (along with more than 90 fellow professors of Middle Eastern studies) an open letter suggesting that Israel was planning to exploit a U.S. war against Iraq as a pretext for initiating a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians. The letter read, in part: “Americans cannot remain silent while crimes as abhorrent as ethnic cleansing are being openly advocated. We urge our government to communicate clearly to the government of Israel that the expulsion of people according to race, religion or nationality would constitute crimes against humanity and will not be tolerated.” Lustick’s fellow signers included, among others, the following professors: Lila Abu-Lughod, Laurie Brand, Juan Cole, Miriam Cooke, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Lisa Hajjar, Bruce Lawrence, and Stephen Zunes.
When asked in a Tikkun magazine interview if he trusted Yasser Arafat, Lustick ignored Arafat’s history as a terrorist and categorized him alongside other heads of state:
“Do I trust Yasser Arafat? Of course not. Why should I? Why should anyone trust a politician, whether Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Benjamin Netanyahu, George W. Bush, or Yasser Arafat? Whether we agree with them or not, politicians aren’t for trusting. They are for getting done what can be done to make really horrible problems into plain old lousy problems.”
Lustick’s articles on ethnic conflict, Middle East politics, American foreign policy, social science methodology, and organization theory have appeared in numerous publications, including World Politics, International Organization, American Political Science Review, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Middle East Journal, Middle East Policy, Israel Studies, Journal of Palestine Studies, and The Cornell International Law Journal.
Lustick has received research grants from dozens of institutions and foundations, including the United States Institute for Peace, the Ford Foundation, the Charles Revson Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.