Books: Rambling Road

TRIBES WITH FLAGS by Charles Glass

Atlantic Monthly Press

510 pages; $22.95

Charles Glass, an American journalist with Lebanese roots, watched the U.S. Navy off Beirut in 1983 and concluded that, like the Genoese and Pisan fleets aiding the Crusaders eight centuries earlier, it would soon sail home in ignorance and frustration. Lebanon and neighboring Syria, Israel, Jordan and Iraq, he argues, are "tribes with flags" rather than nations. Try as big powers might to control them with armies, navies and imported ideologies, the ties of "family, village, tribe and sect" have been much tougher.

In 1987, seeking to absorb and...

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