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Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East Hardcover – February 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Khalidi (Resurrecting Empire) provides a compelling history of modern conflict in the Middle East, arguing that current conflicts are by-products of the cold war and the policies, strategies and priorities of the United States and the Soviet Union. The author illustrates how the cold war rivals saw the Middle East—with its vital location and vast oil and gas reserves—as a tool to further their parallel agendas: the Soviets and Americans both subordinated the goal of Arab-Israeli peace and supplied weapons at a profit to both Iraq and Iran during their eight-year war, while the U.S. sought to further its dominance of the region by backing a coup to overthrow democracy in Iran. Khalidi concludes by charting how George W. Bush's Global War on Terror has allowed for a massive military expansion in the Middle East and resulted in futile and feckless policies that may have increased the actual risk to American citizens and wreaked havoc on the region. Khalidi has written an important book, essential for anyone concerned about the stability of the Middle East. (Mar.)
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A stunningly clear analysis of the geopolitics of Middle East conflicts from 1945 to today. A book not to be missed.—Immanuel Wallerstein, author of European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power
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The results of foreign interventions, Khalidi argues, supporting insurrections, fixing elections, supplying weapons and building military bases, to name a few examples, resulted in increased interstate warfare, as well as the "undermining of democracy," and the growth of authoritarian regimes.
The argument holds water, especially in regards to the Cold War. However, this is not to ignore the fact that internal Arab disputes and their own 'cold war' and realism's hold on dictatorships have given them a few problems all their own. While the U.S. in the last decade has meddled greatly in Iraq and Afghanistan it cannot be said that all of the middle east is still a product of foreign meddling. The middle east is in the international economy and so is its oil. It was rudely introduced to realpolitik in the post WWI era and is becoming quite proficient in the skill today.
It is possible to 'help' too much. Khalidi's description of Lebanon's over-dependence on foreign sources is thought-provoking at best. I don't think world powers are the only pieces of leverage that could extract a tight fisted dictator... then again on this day in summer 2011 my words our hindsight, Khalidi didn't see this coming.
A very good read! Left me thinking!
In this work he seeks to examine the role of the Cold War in the Middle East. For a long time scholars have spoken of what is called an 'Arab Cold War', the internal struggle between Arab regimes who were allied with the U.S and Russia. Egypt was a lynchpin in this for the Egyptian Nationalist government of Nasser and Sadat flirted with he Soviets for some twenty years. Nasserism also influenced revolutions in Yemen and attempted coups in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as Baghdad. Syria under the Ba'ath and the Asad family was a close ally of the Soviets. So was Iraq under the Ba'ath. On the other side were the Saudis, the Gulf States, Egypt after 1980, Jordan's King Hussein, the Yemenite royalists, Baghdad before 1968 and Turkey. Lebanon was always problematic, torn by chaos after 1976 it had numerous influences. The Palestinians too curried favor with the Soviets, especially the PFLP and George Habash.
Islamism and its rise among the Brotherhood, Hamas, and particularly in Iran in 1979 placed a third counterbalance to this Cold War reivalry in the region. Herein lies the problem with the Khalidi analysis. Khalidi wants to show that the U.S and Soviet Union 'sowed crises' in the Middle East. This follows in the footsteps of the older idea that the carving up of the region in 1918 by Europeans also 'sowed' the problems of today. But both of these views neglect Arab agency. What of Mumar Qadafi of Libya, Nasser and the Saudis? What of the Shah and the Ayatollah. All of these men used the West and operated within the contexts they needed to and each in their own way also stood up to the West. This is not to mention Saddam Hussein whose 1991 Gulf War actually pitted him against the U.S and the Russians along with others.
Ibn Saud and the rise of Saudi predates both the 1918 carving up of the Ottoman empire and the Cold War. Hardly a tool of U.S policy the Saudis have worked with the U.S and extended their influence. The revolutionary regimes, such as Nasser, also played the West, sometimes using Western money to build the Aswan Dam and inviting Soviet advisors to help them fight the Israelis. Israel too, now seen as a close aly of the U.S, once coveted close relations with the Soviets.
To ascribe all that has happaned in the Middle East to 'the west' and blame it on the Cold War ignored the agency of the Arab, Persian, Turkish, Jewish and other peoples in the region. Far from always being puppets they had great agecny, their own reolutions and movements and they choose when and where to fight their wars, wars that forced the West into the region in many cases. The U.S in fact long ignored the Middle East between 1948 and 1956 until the Suez crises for Ike to take the side of Egypt against the UK, hardly an example of Cold War 'sowing crises'.
This book is important but places too much emphasis on the importance of the West and fails to see the important role that local rulers played in decision making. While the fad is to blame others for the problems of the Middle East this book doesn't give local people credit where credit is due for their innovations and political experiments.
Seth J. Frantzman