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Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future Hardcover – June 8, 2010
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The bestselling author of Overthrow offers a new and surprising vision for rebuilding America's strategic partnerships in the Middle East What can the United States do to help realize its dream of a peaceful, democratic Middle East? Stephen Kinzer offers a surprising answer in this paradigm-shifting book. Two countries in the region, he argues, are America's logical partners in the twenty-first century: Turkey and Iran. Besides proposing this new "power triangle," Kinzer also recommends that the United States reshape relations with its two traditional Middle East allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. This book provides a penetrating, timely critique of America's approach to the world's most volatile region, and offers a startling alternative. Kinzer is a master storyteller with an eye for grand characters and illuminating historical detail. In this book he introduces us to larger-than-life figures, like a Nebraska schoolteacher who became a martyr to democracy in Iran, a Turkish radical who transformed his country and Islam forever, and a colorful parade of princes, politicians, women of the world, spies, oppressors, liberators, and dreamers. Kinzer's provocative new view of the Middle East is the rare book that will richly entertain while moving a vital policy debate beyond the stale alternatives of the last fifty years
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The bulk of the book is historical, on modern Turkey and Iran from around WWI, when both were in revolutionary upheaval. In Turkey, the Ottomans have been overthrown, bringing an end to an autocratic dynasty that had lasted for centuries; the man who eventually emerged was Kemal Ataturk, who imposed a secular dictatorship, determined to remove Islam from politics. Similar events were occurring in Iran as a weak and incompetent Shah was deposed, replaced by a new dynasty, the Pahlavis. Kinzer's point is that both began to develop a democratic impulse from this time, with help from sincere Americans who appear to have been disinterested advocates of open, participatory government. In spite of the later disappointments, according to Kinzer, not only does this set them apart from other Muslim countries, but it makes them compatible with American interests in the region, i.e. potential long-term, strategic partners.
To buttress his argument, Kinzer goes into fascinating details about each country's history. Ataturk, I learned to my astonishment, was an alcoholic and undisciplined carouser, who died of cirrhosis of the liver, bored of his leadership role. While he was essentially a dictator, according to Kinzer, he laid the foundations for the modern state that emerged under his successors (inlcuding the Islamist Reccep Erdogan). Iran in many ways is more interesting. Most of us know about the CIA coup that ousted Mosaddegh in 1953, which resulted in the re-instatement of the Shah as dictator and protected British and American oil interests. What is less known is how this impacted the body politic, simultaneously giving rise to democratic expectations and a renewed Shiite fundamentalism. The Shah emerged as an megalomaniacal dictator bent on restoring the Persian Empire, which galvanized Shiite clerics to oppose him. He played American politicians for fools, posing as a force for stability in the region while brutally oppressing his people to no rational purpose.
In contrast to them, Kinzer also dissects the US "special friendship" with Saudi Arabia. Due to my own ignorance, this was where I learned the most from this book. From a meeting with FDR, the US supported the dynasty and then used the Saudis for the funding of innumerable shady foreign policy undertakings, rendering them largely opaque and corrupting, among others, the Bush family, according to Kinzer. The point is that the heart of the relationship carries contradictions that doom us with their consequences, i.e. the Saudis supporting destructive fundamentalist movements and engaging in internal repression so harsh that it resembles North Korea. There isn't, Kinzer argues, a strategic convergence of interests with the US. I will have to read further in this.
He also succinctly addresses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though I found this section dated. The time for negotiations, he argues, is over; the deal for peace is perfectly clear: in exchange for security, land concessions and borders must be imposed, including limited sovereignty for both sides and international oversight, either by the US alone or a coalition of some sort. The alternative, in this view, is continued stalemate and sporadic violence, as it had been for 60 years; this situation, he acknowledges, keeps a number of demagogues in power, so must be dictated and enforced by the US president. This, I admit, I find most unlikely.
The root of his argument - that the US shares values, culture, and interests with Iran and Turkey - is compelling. Their people want stability, increased trade, and enhanced democracy, resistant regimes notwithstanding. By focusing on them, the US could wean itself from an unhealthy and hypocritical alliance with Saudi Arabia. This is fine, but the rise of ISIS may make this a distant proposition, to say the least. Nonetheless, the potential rapprochement with Iran, which could lead to cooperation in the stabilization of Irak and Syria, speaks in favor of this. Of course, the displacement of Saudi Arabia and perhaps even Israel as the principal American allies in the region is problematic at best.
As one can see, some events have overtaken this book. However, its analysis of the deeper historical currents remains relevant and extremely useful. It is for that that I recommend this book as essential background.
Toward the last chapters, it became too repetitive of same facts that bore me. The author's other books have been lacking of this repetition. I felt as if he is filling the book! That's why I gave it four stars. But overall, I recommend this book to everyone. Wonderful research in history and diplomacy of the region.
Stephen Kinzer brings key players to life through a coherent narrative that reveals patterns of interference by western powers that impact the two countries to this day.
Published in 2010, the book is a good foundation for better understanding interactions among Turkey, Iran and the United States today.
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The first section covers history prior 1950 and it is reasonably well documented.Read more