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Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East Hardcover – February 18, 2014
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Shifting Sands is a compelling narrative of American policy in the Middle East since World War II. Joel S. Migdal dissects America's static strategic model in a region that has undergone four periods of profound change. He pushes back against those who would yield to the temptation of writing the Middle East off as beset by endemic instability. Rather, eschewing visions of grand change, Migdal suggests the temperate yet more effective approach of building alliances and fostering gradual change. This is a book to be read by policy makers and students of the Middle East alike. (Daniel Kurtzer, Princeton University, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel)
Exquisitely timely.... Read this benchmark study at your earliest opportunity. (Aharon Klieman Israel Studies Review)
Shifting Sands remains a powerful and vibrant account of the US foreign policy in the Middle East, with an authoritative analysis of the past, present (and future) socio-political dynamics of the region. (European Review of International Studies)
About the Author
Joel S. Migdal is the Robert F. Philip Professor of International Studies at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, and has been writing about the Middle East and state-society relations worldwide for more than forty years. Among his books are The Palestinian People (with Baruch Kimmerling), Through the Lens of Israel, Strong Societies and Weak States, and State-in-Society.
Top customer reviews
Most probably because the book represents a compilation of presentations, the book is repetitive, presents multiple and conflicting time-lines and "defining moments" and fails to provide nuance, or even establish inter-relationships, between policy choices and changing context - and between events within the region. Migdal identifies 1979 as one of many defining points he describes in his book. The year 1979 was indeed one of the most significant years in recent Middle East history. But the events of that year are not understood as discrete - they are fundamentally related to each other. His propensity for description and his presentation of most events individually does nothing to advance insight into the region and the reason for things. Another characteristic of the book is the absence of connective tissue between events, ideas, and phenomena. A bit more time to reorganize his thoughts around a more sophisticated thesis would have made a better book.
Migdal does spend some time talking about the Iranian Revolution and in a way that is fascinating, if not disturbing, for its decided approbation. He calls terrorist organizations "non-state actors" - which they are - but they too are presented more as manifestations of societal change and public preference.
"Whether confronting an Egypt-led Arab nationalist bloc supported by the Soviet Union, as in the 1950s and 1960s, or Iraq in the 1990s and 2000s, or an Iran led coalition of states and non states with strong Islamic and Shiite flavors, in the 2000s, Bush and then Obama found slim pickings among Middle East states for constructing their own counter coalitions" is an example of the sloppy history that characterizes Migdal's presentation.
If you want to understand the present in the context of the past, read history. Middle is a political scientist whose research interest is dominated by enquiry into the state-society relationship. Diplomatic historians have consciously been doing what Migdal tries to do in Shifting Sands for some decades now - namely synthetic, holistic, research and explanation that crosses levels of analysis and is concerned with the inter-relationship of multiple perspectives.
In this fast moving analysis of American Policy in the region since World War II, the focus is on the fundamentally changed relations and patterns of interaction between governments and citizens in the Middle East, with a spotlight on the cookie cutter solutions that American policy makers imposed on the region, hence the title of the book “Shifting Sands”. Unlike other books that approach the same topic, this author still affirms his belief that the U.S is and will continue to be a formidable player in the Middle East. He deliberates on what the US can and should accomplish in today’s tumultuous Middle Eastern environment, and suggests specific approaches, which if employed would help Washington to achieve its goals in this post-Arab spring era.