His­to­rian wrote sem­i­nal book on roots of Mideast con­flict

Houston Chronicle - - OBITUARIES - By Sam Roberts

David Fromkin, a nonaca­demic his­to­rian whose de­fin­i­tive book on the Mid­dle East warned the West against na­tion-build­ing by par­ti­tion­ing an­tag­o­nis­tic re­li­gious groups be­hind ar­bi­trary bound­aries, died June 11 in Man­hat­tan. He was 84.

The cause was heart fail­ure, his nephew Daniel Soyer said.

Fromkin, a lawyer and in­vestor, be­came a pub­lished au­thor only in his 40s and a pro­fes­sor in his 60s.

His sem­i­nal book on the Mid­dle East, “A Peace to End All Peace” (1989), traced the roots of con­flict in the re­gion to the cre­ation of un­sus­tain­able na­tions there through ar­ti­fi­cial map­mak­ing by Euro­pean diplo­mats in the early 1920s, af­ter the de­feat of the Ot­toman Em­pire in World War I.

He con­cluded that those self-serv­ing car­tog­ra­phers had grossly un­der­es­ti­mated the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion’s en­dur­ing faith in Is­lam as the foun­da­tion of ev­ery­day life, pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment, and that they had failed to ac­count for the Mid­dle East’s lin­ger­ing re­sent­ment of West­ern im­pe­ri­al­ism.

Ad­vo­cated con­straints

“A Mid­dle Easterner need not be es­pe­cially cyn­i­cal, con­sid­er­ing the re­gion’s oil and strate­gic sit­u­a­tion, to sus­pect that Amer­ica is pur­su­ing its na­tional in­ter­ests rather than dis­in­ter­est­edly pro­mot­ing democ­racy and the wel­fare of west­ern Asia,” Fromkin wrote in 2005 in an op-ed ar­ti­cle in the New York Times.

“One les­son of re­cent his­tory is clear, how­ever,” he con­tin­ued, di­rect­ing his ad­vice to fel­low Amer­i­cans. “The prospects in the Mus­lim world would be brighter if both the tear­ing down and the build­ing up were done by Mus­lims rather than by us. Ber­lin­ers brought down the wall; yet it was we who over­threw Iraq’s dic­ta­tor, not the Iraqis.”

Fromkin ad­vo­cated other con­straints on U.S. mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion over­seas.

“As a gen­eral rule, the United States should go to war only to de­fend its vi­tal in­ter­ests,” he wrote in “Kosovo Cross­ing: The Re­al­ity of Amer­i­can In­ter­ven­tion in the Balkans” (1999), in which he ex­am­ined the con­flict be­tween Amer­i­can ideals and bat­tle­field re­al­i­ties in the Balkans dur­ing the 1999 NATO bomb­ing cam­paign to stop atroc­i­ties in Kosovo.

Whether or not the U.S. in­ter­ven­tion was al­tru­is­tic, he wrote in that book, “the Kosovo war raises the ques­tion of the ex­tent to which Amer­ica, in the world out­side its bor­ders, has the power to do good — or even whether it knows with any cer­tainty what ‘good’ is.”

He lamented in 1994 in the New York Times Mag­a­zine, “Our record of leav­ing hon­est, de­cent, demo­cratic new lo­cal lead­ers be­hind af­ter we in­ter­vene is not a good one.”

Au­thored seven books

David Henry Fromkin was born on Aug. 27, 1932, in Milwaukee to Mor­ris Fromkin, a lawyer, and the for­mer Selma Strelsin, the sis­ter of Al­bert A. Strelsin, the in­dus­tri­al­ist and arts pa­tron.

He is sur­vived by two sis­ters, Sari Fromkin Magaziner and Mar­cia Fromkin Prester.

Fromkin earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from the Univer­sity of Chicago and grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Chicago Law School. He was the au­thor of seven books, the first of which, “The Ques­tion of Gov­ern­ment: An In­quiry Into the Break­down of Mod­ern Po­lit­i­cal Sys­tems,” was pub­lished in 1975.

In 1995, he wrote “In the Time of the Amer­i­cans: FDR, Tru­man, Eisen­hower, Mar­shall, MacArthur — the Gen­er­a­tion That Changed Amer­ica’s Role in the World,” in which he ar­gued that af­ter World War II Amer­i­cans were given a rare sec­ond chance to cor­rect the short­com­ings of Woodrow Wil­son’s oneworld ide­al­ism.

As Richard Reeves wrote in the New York Times Book Re­view, “The United Na­tions is Wil­so­nian; NATO rep­re­sents the kind of big-power peace en­force­ment en­vi­sioned by TR.”

Among Fromkin’s other books were “Europe’s Last Sum­mer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?” (2004), which jour­nal­ist Avedis Had­jian, writ­ing for CNN. com, called “a fast-paced, grip­ping guide through the com­plex set of rea­sons and emo­tions that led to the 20th cen­tury’s sem­i­nal con­flict”; and “The King and the Cow­boy: Theodore Roo­sevelt and Ed­ward the Sev­enth, Se­cret Part­ners” (2008).

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