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America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 5, 2016
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“[Andrew J.] Bacevich is thought-provoking, profane and fearless. . . . [His] call for Americans to rethink their nation’s militarized approach to the Middle East is incisive, urgent and essential.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Bacevich’s magnum opus . . . a deft and rhythmic polemic aimed at America’s failures in the Middle East from the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency to the present.”—Robert D. Kaplan, The Wall Street Journal
“A critical review of American policy and military involvement . . . Those familiar with Bacevich’s work will recognize the clarity of expression, the devastating directness and the coruscating wit that characterize the writing of one of the most articulate and incisive living critics of American foreign policy.”—The Washington Post
“[A] monumental new work . . . One of the grim and eerie wonders of his book is the way in which just about every wrongheaded thing Washington did in that region in the fourteen-plus years since 9/11 had its surprising precursor in the two decades of American war there before the World Trade Center towers came down.”—The Huffington Post
“The book reveals a number of critical truths, exposing deep flaws that have persisted for decades in American strategic thinking—flaws that have led successive American presidents to ask the American military to accomplish the impossible, often while barely providing it with the resources to accomplish even the most modest of goals. . . . Read Bacevich—not for the solutions he proposes but to be sobered by the challenge.”—National Review
“In one arresting book after another, Andrew J. Bacevich has relentlessly laid bare the failings of American foreign policy since the Cold War. This one is his sad crowning achievement: the story of our long and growing military entanglement in the region of the most tragic, bitter, and intractable of conflicts.”—Richard K. Betts, director, Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University
“Andrew Bacevich offers the reader an unparalleled historical tour de force in a book that is certain to affect the formation of future U.S. foreign policy and any consequent decisions to employ military force. He presents sobering evidence that for nearly four decades the nation’s leaders have demonstrated ineptitude at nearly every turn as they shaped and attempted to implement Middle East policy. Every citizen aspiring to high office needs not only to read but to study and learn from this important book. This is one of the most serious and essential books I have read in more than half a century of public service.”—Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
“Bacevich asks and answers a provocative, inconvenient question: In a multigenerational war in the Middle East, ‘Why has the world’s mightiest military achieved so little?’ ”—Graham Allison, director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government
“Andrew Bacevich lays out in excruciating detail the disasters orchestrated over decades by the architects of the American empire in the Middle East. Blunder after blunder, fed by hubris along with cultural, historical, linguistic, and religious illiteracy, has shattered cohesion within the Middle East. The wars we have waged have given birth to a frightening nihilistic violence embodied in radical jihadism. They have engendered an inchoate rage among the dispossessed and left in their wake a series of failed and disintegrating states. These wars have, as Bacevich writes, laid bare the folly of attempting to use military force as a form of political, economic, and social control. Bacevich is one of our finest chroniclers of the decline of empire, and America’s War for the Greater Middle East is an essential addition to his remarkable body of work.”—Chris Hedges, former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and author of Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt
“Andrew Bacevich’s thoughtful, persuasive critique of America’s crusade for the Greater Middle East should be compulsory reading for anyone charged with making policy for the region. We cannot afford to repeat the past misjudgments on the area. As Bacevich wisely argues, the stakes are nothing less than the future well-being of the United States.”—Robert Dallek, author of Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House
About the Author
Andrew J. Bacevich is a retired professor of history and international relations at Boston University. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he served for twenty-three years as a commissioned officer in the United States Army. He received his PhD in American diplomatic history from Princeton. Before joining the faculty of Boston University in 1998, he taught at West Point and at Johns Hopkins University. His three most recent books—Breach of Trust, Washington Rules, and The Limits of Power—all hit the New York Times bestseller list. A winner of the Lannan Notable Book Award, he lectures frequently at universities around the country. He lives with his wife, Nancy, in Walpole, Massachusetts.
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Bacevich also points out that Carter's predecessors going back to WWII had done him no favors with their forging ill-advised relationships and foolhardy commitments. Nonetheless, Carter had launched America's War for the Greater Middle East, compounding those inherited errors. That war continues today, with no end in sight.
America's War for the Greater Middle East was a war to preserve the American way of life, rooted in an abundance of cheap energy. In 1969, imports already accounted for 20% of American consumption, and the next year U.S. domestic oil production peaked. By 1973, in retaliation for U.S. support for Israel in the October War, Arabs suspended oil exports to the U.S. and the West. Eventually, oil imports resumed, but the availability and price of gasoline had now become a matter of national concern. The hierarchy of national security priorities was beginning to shift from nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union.
President Nixon launched a plan to insure that Americans would not have to rely on any source of energy beyond our own (Project Independence), but the idea that retrenchment was needed did not sit well with some. There was a strong sense of entitlement, notwithstanding Britain's prior experiences. However, the just-concluded war in Vietnam effectively dampened any enthusiasm for further military adventurism.
From the end of WWII to 1980, virtually no American soldiers were KIA in the Greater Middle East. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere except in the Greater Middle East.
When Carter became president, he first had to confront what he called an 'inordinate fear of communism' that had found the U.S. in bed with corrupt, repressive regimes. However, he hadn't figured on the Iranian Revolution. Previously the CIA helped engineer a coup that returned the Shah to his throne while overthrowing a democratically elected Iranian government. Nixon sold top-line American weapons to Iran, now flush with cash thanks to booming oil exports - envisioning Iran as ensuring stability in the gulf, along with Saudi Arabia.
The Shah, however, was losing his grip on power - having previously alienated segments of society ranging from secularized liberals to religious conservatives. All saw the Shah as an American lackey, the U.S. as parasitic. Both the Shah and Washington dithered. On 1/16/79, he fled into exile.
The Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah triggered a second 'oil shock' as Iranian production fell off sharply, and OPEC announced a succession of price increases. Carter's ratings sank. Prior to addressing the nation, he concluded that America's oil addiction was the underlying problem and had led to losing our moral bearings. 'Too many of us now worshipped self-indulgence and consumption.' Carter saw one path - constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility, and another with us united in control of our destiny via conservation. It became a conflict between self-interest and self-sacrifice. Eventually, the speech became known as Carter's "crisis of confidence" (malaise) speech. With that refusal, the Persian Gulf and its environs acquired massively heightened significance.
Carter had just previously signed off on a memo committed the U.S. to assist Afghan insurgents warring against the Soviet-supported regime in Kabul. The amount was small - only $500,000, and material provided primarily medical supplies and communications equipment. Brezinski saw this as needed to dissuade the Soviets from meddling in the Persian Gulf. On 11/1/79, Brezinski met with Iran's prime minister, in an effort to forge a new positive relationship. However, on 11/4, Iranian students opposed to Carter's allowing the Shah to enter the U.S. for medical treatment, overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The Carter administration had no intention of another coup, feared by the students, and the Ayatollah had not ordered the seizure or even prior knowledge of it. Unfortunately, he soon endorsed what the students had one and transformed a difficult problem into a much bigger one. Carter then switched to a goal of maintaining a military preponderance in the region.
Adding the Persian Gulf to the list of U.S. strategic priorities added to defending Western Europe and Northeast Asia. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Reagan's election combined to revive the Cold War. The task, however, was complicated by the fact that states receiving U.S. 'protection' such as Iran, did not want or cooperate with it. The U.S. began with upgrading ports and airfields to which it had been promised access in Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Oman, and Somalia. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia undertook building bases far beyond its needs or ability to operate. A series of training exercises was programmed to cycle U.S. forces through the region - aimed to acclimate U.S. troops to conditions in the region and promote an increasing tolerance for their presence. The U.S. also began poring billions in military aid into the area - $9.1 billion in 1984, $11 billion the next year. It was assumed that memory of prior upheavals dismantling the Ottoman Empire after WWI, creation of Israel in 1948, overthrowing Iran's government in 1953, the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973 would fade away. It was also assumed that Kremlin leaders would play their assigned role as bogeymen - that changed with Gorbachev becoming leader (March, 1985) and working to call off the Cold War.
While Weinberger continued to warn of Soviet military threats, Gorbachev accepted U.S. terms in 1987 for a treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe, and announced plans to end occupation of Afghanistan. In February 1989, the final contingent of Soviet forces left Afghanistan. By end of 1989, our army found itself with more tanks and tank crews than it knew what to do with - made redundant by the sudden end of the Cold War.
We then quickly fingered Saddam's Iraq as the new Public Enemy #1, and the peace dividend never materialized. To this point, U.S. containment efforts had been directed against states. Reality was that religion (Sunni vs. Shiite), and resentment over Western meddling, including border changes, which the U.S. had become heir to were to play a far stronger role than ever imagined. Iraq, Israel-Palestine, and Pakistan were prime examples of the latter.
U.S. assistance to the mujahedin during the 1980s totaled between $4 - $5 billion, matched by Saudi Arabia.
The Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon (had been placed there as a poorly thought through means of ending conflict in Lebanon) was not avenged, nor were additional Marine deaths by Syrian artillery fire at the Lebanon airport, or the two U.S. aircraft shot down by Syrian air defenses east of Beirut. Thomas Friedman wrote that the Marines had 'accomplished virtually nothing.' Hezbollah could reasonably claim to have inflicted a decisive defeat on the world's preeminent superpower - a conclusion not lost on other U.S. opponents.
By 1979, Libya's efforts towards liberating Palestine etc. had earned it a place on our list of state sponsors of terrorism. Reagan concluded Gaddafi needed to be taught a lesson. In 1973, Gaddafi had claimed ownership of the Gulf of Sidra. The U.S. had rejected Gaddafi's claim without pressing the issue. Reagan changed that by having the U.S. Navy progressively challenging Gaddafi, dispatching carriers Forrestal and Nimitz across the 'line of death.' Two responding Libyan fighters were shot down. A later attack in response to the West Berlin disco bombing and against Gaddafi personally at Benghazi (18 F-111s from Britain - 2 turned back due to equipment failures, four aborted while on target approach, a 7th missed its assigned target, and an 8th shot down; 15 A-6 Intruders from aircraft carriers destroyed the airfield) - overall achieving little, as Gaddafi was apparently warned in advance. That was the inauguration of an extended and futile experiment in employing military might to defeat terrorism - even though Reagan was pleased.
to remind readers of why they are probably reading the book in the
first place, but also to reinforce the book's central narrative -
former U.S. Army Colonel and retired Professor of history and
international relations at Boston University, Andrew J. Bacevich
provides us with a meticulously researched and documented account
of the Long War for the Middle East that began with President
Jimmy Carter's April 24-25, 1980 failed attempt to rescue American
hostages in Iran known as Operation Eagle Claw, and that continues
to the present day with no end in sight.
One war per chapter, we are provided with answers to the
questions: who, what, where, when, how and - not least - why we
are fighting these wars, including an accounting of the tragic
blood and immense treasure expended for the black gold and elusive
geopolitical posturing that escalated as a covert proxy war
against the former Soviet Union and has now emerged as 'Brundle-
Fly' - a misshapen amalgam of metal and flesh - falling out of the transport pod
and onto the laboratory floor, gasping to be put out of its misery.
The book can logically be divided into 'pre-9/11' and 'post 9/11'
wars, the former chapters being faster to read while the latter
chapters being full of details that make for slower reading. At
once exhaustive and exhausting, the final chapters fan out from
CENTCOM to AFRICOM and beyond, like the Nile river delta fans out
into the Mediterranean Sea. It is as though Bacevich is saying
without saying it that the Greater Middle East - which now
includes Africa - has become a much more complicated place and
here is how we made it that way and will continue to do so in the
Cui Bono? All of us and none of us, but certainly the ones
closest to the money trough benefit the most, with the spoils
diminishing exponentially among the ordinary soldiers tasked with
carrying out half-baked, self-serving, amnesic, obdurate and
obtuse policies, and finding their nadir among the indigenous
populations who have borne the brunt of America's ongoing War for
the Greater Middle East.
I got a lot out of reading this book, not least was further
calibration of my BS detector of pronouncements made by government
officials and their loyal stenographers and courtiers, otherwise
known as corporate mainstream media. I also like the Kindle
version with its built-in dictionary that keeps pace with
Bacevich's prodigious vocabulary. If you're not inclined to sit
through this slice of military history, then I recommend reading
just the final chapter in a bookstore or library to get the
meaning of this important-but likely to be ignored-book.