Monday, February 23, 2015

Peter T. on the U.S. in the Middle East (Part 1)

Note: This is the first part of a two-part guest post by Peter T.  He is a retired civil servant who worked in Australian national intelligence for 12 years, then in law enforcement intelligence and related fields.  He traveled in Asia in the 1970s and taught in Iran in 1978.  He has degrees in history and International Relations (Sydney University and University of Kent).


That U.S. policy in the Middle East is a mess is very nearly a truism.  For instance, a first quick look at my local library turned up a book by an American journalist with several decades of experience in the area, Patrick Tyler.  It's a long survey of six decades of the twists and turns of U.S. policy as shaped by the personalities of Presidents and their close associates.  Page 11: “After nearly six decades of escalating American involvement in the Middle East, it remains nearly impossible to discern any overarching approach to the region...What stands out is the absence of if the hallmark of American diplomacy were discontinuity.”  And that's from a sympathiser.

To illustrate briefly: in 1975 the U.S.'s chosen major strategic partners were Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.  Iraq and Syria were in the Soviet orbit, the Afghan central government in the U.S. one, and the Kurds had just been abandoned to Iraqi mercies after a few years of not-so-covert support. Insofar as radical Islam was on the radar, it was not favoured.  A decade later, the U.S. was actively helping Iraq against Iran and the Kurds, and was running a proxy war against the Afghan government in alliance with a radical Islamic movement funded by Saudi Arabia.

A decade after that, in 1995, the U.S. was at odds with both Iran and Iraq, again offering aid to the Kurds, and becoming less comfortable with radical Islam.  By 2005, it was bolstering the Afghan central government against the tribes and radical Islamists, trying to keep an Iranian-aligned Iraqi government and the Kurds on side, but still supporting the Saudi government even as it funded a radical Islam declared to be the U.S.’s prime enemy.  By 2015, the U.S. was in a de facto alliance with Iran against a radical Islamic movement in Iraq and Syria, supporting “moderate Islamists” allied with the radicals against a Syrian government backed by Iran, propping up the Afghan government against the tribal and radical Islamist coalition it had nurtured in the ‘80s, backing the Saudi government against both radical Islam and Iranian-supported Shia populism in the Arabian Peninsula.  The U.S. is now on all sides of all the fights in the region apart, of course, from the Israel-Arab (or Israeli-Palestinian) conflict.  And, even there, it is not obvious that Israel and the U.S. are on the same sides, or which way the leverage runs between Washington and Tel Aviv.

The policy and the arguments are now approaching farce.  The think tank The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has just put out a paper arguing that “pursuing U.S. regional interests must involve targeting not only ISIS but also its Shiite adversaries.”  Presumably the authors will simply assume that some alternative force conformable to U.S. preferences can be conjured into being (new improved Iraqi Army anyone?).  And that targeting both sides in a war will produce something other than anarchy.  Or take the recent announcement that the U.S. and Turkey had agreed on the training of “moderate” Syrian rebels.  They just disagreed on who the rebels will fight, ISIS or Assad.

No Friends, Only Interests?

Iraqi Kurds, Afghan Tajiks, Hazaras, Pushtuns, Iraqi Shi'ites have all been the victims of abrupt changes in U.S. policy; Iranian policy-makers have been treated to talk of reconciliation and then slapped with sanctions; Iraqi Sunnis were first treated to “de-Baathification,” then bribed to cease fire, and are now being bombed.  With experiences like this, it is no wonder that Pew reported that only 30 per cent of Middle Easterners had a positive view of the U.S. in 2014 –  by far the lowest score of any region of the world.

We've all seen those movies where the central character ends up in a nun outfit on top of a skyscraper with an ex-lover, a criminal, a banker, a lunatic, a stuffed bear and a stolen yacht.  The French do them really well.  As you watch the film, each move is explicable (“I was on my way to get some milk for the cat when....and because I love animals...and then the door opened...”), so much so that the end result is not so much a surprise as a culmination.  The foreign policies of Great Powers are not supposed to resemble these movies.

So this is one of those outcomes – like a depression for economics – that offers a teaching moment. There are plenty of reasons offered why the U.S. did and does intervene in the Middle East: oil, Israel, the geopolitics of anti-Communism, the “war on terror”.  There are large books (often written by the policy-makers themselves) explaining why each decision was perfectly rational and the consequences unforeseeable.  It is a journalistic trope that the Middle East is a strange, complicated place where people are irrational, extremist, un-modern....

Really? The Middle East is more complicated than the Balkans, South-East Asia, Latin America? Oil may explain why the U.S. is interested, but hardly explains why, to guarantee supply, it had to impose sanctions on Iran or wreck Iraq, or encourage, abandon, protect, discourage and then promote Kurdish autonomy (see also Northern Alliance, Pashtuns, Shi'ites....).  The same books that proclaim the regrettable irrationality of Middle Easterners often also lay out in detail the (perfectly rational) calculations behind each move – both their own and others'.

What can explain this?  One common phrase, loosely paraphrased from Lord Palmerston, is that “states don't have friends, they have interests.”  Like many such aphorisms, it dissolves on closer scrutiny.  Whose interests?  How are they identified?  How are “interests” reconciled and assigned priorities?  Don't states have an interest in being seen as reliable allies?  What interests have led the U.S. into this position?

Oil as Driver of U.S. Policy?

Oil?  The U.S. interest in ensuring oil flows to the world market was offered as a reason for supporting Iraq against Iran in the ‘80s (though the U.S. also secretly sold weapons to Iran), for U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, and for the heavy U.S. presence in the Gulf.  But it sits oddly with ongoing efforts to limit Iranian exports, particularly after chaos in Iraq, Libya and Syria markedly reduced flows from those countries.  It also sits oddly with the maintenance of sanctions on Saddam and with the strategies adopted in the Second Gulf War.  There does not seem to have been any great focus on protecting oil installations or ensuring continuity of trained personnel.  There were, of course, a few planning papers, but not so much focus on the ground.

One much-cited source is a 2001 study commissioned by, among others, Dick Cheney, which identified Iraq's oil as the key to averting a looming supply crunch.  The report recommended that the U.S. “should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments.  The United States should then develop an integrated strategy with key allies in Europe and Asia, and with key countries in the Middle East, to restate goals with respect to Iraqi policy and to restore a cohesive coalition of key allies."  It should do thiswith the ultimate goal of stemming the tide of anti-Americanism in the Middle-East and eas[ing] Iraqi oil-field investment restrictions.”  This is pretty much a description of what the U.S. did not do.

The Second Gulf War stands out, of course, as the nadir of incompetence and wishful thinking.  Yet it is not obvious that supposedly more professional and realistic administrations have a very much better track record.  The Bush I/Clinton sanctions regime killed nearly as many Iraqis as the second war and its aftermath.  The U.S. officials making Middle Eastern policy have access to all sorts of expertise.  The evidence is that they do not use it.  Further, they mostly can't be bothered to actually engage with even the most basic realities in terms of thinking through what they might mean for strategy.  This is largely a failure of imagination, but it's also due to the fact that, up until quite recently, Middle Eastern peoples mostly lacked the means to assert their own interests.  Various factions and interests in the major powers could use the place as a playground, policy could hop from one foot to the other and it didn't matter.  The locals were powerless.  Policy did not have to be careful, considered, cautious.  The oil would flow even if State made empty promises, the CIA played James Bond, and the Pentagon sold and tested new weapons.  There were few domestic consequences, and no other power cared either.  And if the U.S. stuffed up in one country, there was always another nearby.   The meddling was just another manifestation of Great Power status, but the incoherence was not because the Middle East was important but complex: it was because it was complex (as everywhere is) and weak.  If the meddling had had more immediate or drastic consequences, quite a few policy minds would have been concentrated.[1]

Some Realities

What are some basic Middle Eastern realities?  One is that politics in the Middle East has an embedded religious dimension.  It is, after all, mostly Islamic.  Secular alternatives are not realistically on offer.  Ignoring Sunni, Shia, Druze, Allawi identities is silly.  So is supposing that they can be easily supplanted.  This does not mean that people are doomed to fight over religion.  It does mean that policy that does not take the religious angle seriously will be fragile.  Of course, religious identities cross-cut with ethnic and national ones, but in this the Middle East is no more complicated than Europe.  A map of the current front lines in the Syrian civil war is pretty much a map of the country's religious and ethnic affiliations, down to the village level.

A second reality is that no policy that seeks to exclude or ignore Iran is likely to succeed.  One can no more exclude Iran from the Middle East than one can exclude France or Germany from Europe. Iran is simply too big, too central, and too closely linked to its neighbours.  It has withstood U.S.-supported invasion, sanctions and threats, developed its transport and other links with neighbours like Turkey, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Pakistan, has close ties with the governments in Baghdad and Damascus and with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and built a modest but quite formidable local defense capability.  Quite simply, Iran has the diplomatic, military, and economic capacity to withstand more pressure than the U.S. can bring to bear, and so its interests have to be taken seriously.  This means accepting Iranian control over its civil nuclear program, something that occupies the same place in Iranian politics as revocation of the unequal treaties did in Chinese politics up to 1949: the acid test of sovereignty.  The signs are that the U.S. has not yet quite grasped this.  It took 20 years for the U.S. policy establishment to grok that things had changed in China.  It looks like taking at least 40 years for the penny to drop on Iran.

So if I were a U.S. policy analyst, I would advise reaching a modus vivendi with Iran as soon as possible, resignedly accept that Iraq will be a Shia-run state aligned with Iran, back Kurdish independence, and tell State that if they get involved in the Syrian five-way dog-fight they will get bitten.  So pick one dog to back or stay out, because being bitten by a few is better than being bitten by all.  But on past form, if I were a policy analyst my advice would be entirely disregarded except as it agreed with the listener's prejudices.

-- Peter T.

[1] There are other places that resemble the Middle East in that outside powers used them as playgrounds without regard for consistency (or for the locals).  China 1860-1949, Latin America up to the 1990s or Central Asia in the period of the Great Game fit the bill, as does, ominously, Eastern Europe post-1989.  Even the tropes are the same: there is much talk of irrationality, corruption, regimes mired in ancient superstition and needing to be dragged into the Modern World, of bringing efficiency, order, enlightenment.  As well as, of course, making money.


LFC said...

I will have a brief comment on the oil angle sometime in next few days. In meantime maybe some others will chime in.

e julius drivingstorm said...

But on past form, if I were a policy analyst my advice would be entirely disregarded except as it agreed with the listener's prejudices.
-- Peter T.

I'm reminded what I thought about one of the specific actions that we took to exert force.

President Reagan decided to bomb Tripoli -- something to do with retaliation to Qaddafi's harboring a terrorist group that bombed Americans in European night clubs and/or the Lockerbie disaster, perhaps complicated by the Iranian airliner accidentally shot down by the Vincennes (I'd have to look it all up).

Anyway, the flight of F-15's took off from England but France denied permission to allow the planes to fly over. Reagan decided not to ask Spain for airspace permission to save more embarrassment so he went all the way around.

After the bombing, two English representatives were on CNN decrying the retaliatory mission as wrong because it will not work. A French representative explained his government's denial of the mission saying simply that it is wrong. My own prejudice was that France was displaying a better morality but it may have simply been pragmatic self-preservation.

My point is that we cannot present a consistent morality when we change our government from one tribe to the other every 4, 8 or 12 years or so (notwithstanding we have a military-industrial complex). We cannot define the better angels of our nature.

hank_F_M said...


Possibly the policy is based on the assumption that the Middle East is too varied, changeable, and incomprehensible to any senior leadership who would also like to concentrate on more malleable and important subjects, to develop and execute a consistent policy. Even a bad one.

Thus the only thing that cam be done is provide band aids to the current situation.

Of course people have tried to develop a consistent policy usually with bad results. That these efforts were often in conflict did not help.

Since the US is developing a qusi energy independence, perhaps it s time to say that others should do the band aids.

LFC said...

Thanks for these comments. (I think, Hank, your comment should have been addressed, as I believe e.j.d.'s is, to Peter T., since he is the author of this post.) On your reference to "more malleable and important subjects" -
I'd say the MidEast may not be malleable but it is important, though maybe not quite as crucial as the U.S. and, in its day, the USSR assumed.

Anyway Hank, your last remark about U.S. energy independence relates in a way to the point on oil I've been promising to make.

I agree with Peter's view as expressed in this post that oil is not a "master key" explanation for U.S. policy in the region ('master key' being my phrase, not his).

On a slightly different question, however -- namely, what motivates third parties to intervene in civil conflicts -- someone recently pointed me to a piece in WaPo of a month ago that summarizes a Journal of Conflict Resolution article purporting to demonstrate statistically that oil is a big factor in influencing 3rd-party interventions in civil wars.


It's difficult to evaluate this without having read the journal article itself (which I haven't). These sorts of studies almost inevitably raise causation/correlation issues, for instance. However, I offer the link fwiw. (There's also an internal link to the journal article's abstract.)

p.s. The second part of Peter T's guest post will be appearing in the near future.

LFC said...

Btw, I note that the period covered by the article is 1945-1999. This allows the authors in their WaPo summary to contrast Britain's intervention in Biafra/Nigeria with its non-intervention in Sierra Leone. However, just after the period covered by the article, namely c.2000/2001, Britain did intervene in a peacekeeping qua 'peace enforcement' capacity in Sierra Leone. So the period one chooses to study in an exercise like this does matter. Plus the 2000s saw other interventions that were not oil motivated; I really don't think Libya 2011 was, for example. (Of course Iraq 2003 falls outside the substantive scope of their study since it was not intervention in a civil war. Afghanistan 2001 arguably was a kind of intervention in a civil war, though I'm sure one can debate and split hairs over that.)

LFC said...

Btw (again), the comment by e. julius drivingstorm (and I will say in passing that I remember the 1986 air raid on Tripoli but not all the details by any means) raises implicitly the question of normative/moral vs more detached, if you will, analysis. I took Peter T to be arguing in a quasi-realist vein that the US has done a bad job of defining achievable goals and pursuing them sensibly and consistently. This is not necessarily a moral critique, though I think there may be one implicit (and prob. occasionally explicit) in the post.

Also, on France/Libya in '86: my recollection is that at the time there were close ties betw. the Fr. govt and Qaddafi. That was a big reason France denied use of its air space. The moral gloss put on it by the Fr. rep. on CNN was, I suspect, largely for public consumption. The history of French/Libyan relations is probably an interesting story in itself.

Peter T said...

e julius, hank

Thanks for the comments. In looking at this I was struck by the incoherence of US policy not only between administrations but within them: the right hand contradicting the left, and both at odds with the feet. And at how little the choices were informed by any real appreciation of the facts on the ground: band-aids applied to fevers and cold water to gunshot wounds, to use hank's analogy.

I don't think the Middle East is any more complicated than most other parts of the world, so I think the puzzle is in Washington more than Tehran, Tel Aviv or Baghdad. That a system so large, open and continuous as the US one does this points to something systemic, but I have no good answer to what the deep issues are.

LFC said...

Last comment for now [!]: the above is not to endorse the '86 raid, which I don't think did much except cement Qaddafi's enmity to the U.S. and kill at least one of his children (a daughter, as I recall).

Peter T said...

And I see the much more erudite Juan Cole making the same point about Iran:

Pity this penny did not drop 12 years back.

e julius drivingstorm said...

LFC, thanks for clearing up that France/Libya attitude for me. And a nice get on having Peter T post here.

Peter T, yours is one of the more worth while posts I've stumbled upon in some time. I'm still absorbing it but am looking forward to Part ll.

LFC said...

e. julius:


LFC said...

P.s. Part 2 coming Monday a.m. (E.S.T.)

JS said...

LFC and Peter T,

Thanks for the plug on CT. This is great, and I would have missed it otherwise.

LFC said...

Hi js.
Thanks for stopping by!

LFC said...

p.s. I'm esp. glad Peter mentioned this on CT b.c I'm not on Twitter or Facebook (by choice, obviously), so I don't plug this blog in those ways.

[Of course w Twitter you can still follow someone else's tweets if you're not registered yourself; w FB, I don't think you can do anything if you're not registered.]

e julius drivingstorm said...

Incidently, the title of Patrick Tyler's book alluded to in the OP is A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East from the Cold War to the War on Terror. I think the readers of this blog can figure that out but it would probably be of help to edit it in.

I see that both the OP'er and host here have gamely invited the Crooked Timber granfalloon over for a look see.

LFC said...

Thks for the title, e.j.d. Not sure I'm going to bother to edit it in -- it's a few more keystrokes and I wd have to take the post offline for a couple of minutes, and life is short.;)

I think "granfalloon" is from Vonnegut but i forget the implication.

And yeah, everyone is invited. Crooked Timber granfalloon, Lawyers Guns & Money granfalloon etc. Traffic is up here today a bit b.c of the CT plug.

I hope you do realize that those blogs get thousands of unique visitors a day and when this blog gets more than ten [sic] it counts as a good day, even if google
analytics doesn't capture feed traffic.

LFC said...

p.s. And my internet friend js., who comments at CT, is welcome here any time. He knows more about Aristotle and Kant than I ever will.

JS said...

LFC, thanks! Just added this to my RSS feed, so I can keep up with the posts

JS said...

Ok, bit of a substantive comment:

Paras two and three pf the post, illustrating the inconsistencies, bordering on schizophrenia, of US FP in the Middle East drive home the point excellently. At the same time, they're one-sided in a way that can seem a bit misleading, I think. To take the most obvious example, the reason that US policy did a u-turn towards Iran between 1975 and 1985 is 1979. That is, in this and other cases, the US has pursued policies that have engendered strong grassroots opposition. I'm just a layman and so open to correction, but I'd think if you wanted to point to one consistent feature of US foreign policy in the ME, it's that these policies generate widespread discontent and opposition among the populations in question.* That is, I'm thinking that with respect to the "30% of people in the ME have a favorable view of the US" bit, the causality goes the other way, at least somewhat. It's not that they have an unfavorable view because the policy is schizophrenic, but that the policy is schizophrenic partly because it engenders opposition and hence reversals.

I don't have any special insight into this, but if it is in fact true (and it may not be), then I think it's worth considering why the US FP establishment would get it so consistently wrong.

*Israel would be obvious exception, but it's obviously a special case. (I should probably also say that Said is very much at the forefront of my mind when I think about these questions.)

LFC said...

Thanks for the thoughts. I think I'll let Peter have first crack at this.


W/r/t Said: I have read only a little of him. I haven't read Orientalism or a lot of his writing on the I/P conflict, except when I used to subscribe to The Nation I prob. read him occasionally there.

I'm always fiddling with my to-read list and reading only a fraction of what I intend to. My plan actually for the next couple of months is not to post v. much, though I shd prob try to put up something occasionally now that you've put the blog on your RSS feed.:)
There is a recent bk on the end of the Cold War, which I own and the author of which I've met, that was going to be the next actual book (as opposed to snippet, article, whatnot) that I read. However maybe I shd put Orientalism on the list.

Peter T said...

thanks js. Fair point, but it then leads to asking why the US continually pursues policies that fail due to popular opposition? Why does it over-estimate the power/popularity of its regional proxies (Shah, Mubarrak, Saddam, Chalabi) and under-estimate the strength of their oppositions? If I am reading the reference to Said rightly, is this because the Muslim Orient is a space western elites are used to projecting a fantasy?

Peter T said...

In response to what i thought is a good article in The Atlantic on ISIS, an ISIS supporter ends his comment with "It’s not because we don't understand what it is saying in terms of how to defeat the Muslims, rather it’s because we know that those in charge will ignore it and screw things up anyway." I can't fault his judgement.

JS said...

Peter T: "If I am reading the reference to Said rightly, is this because the Muslim Orient is a space western elites are used to projecting a fantasy?"

A bit of that, yes. But also the kind of thing you stress, viz., thinking about Middle East populations as peculiarly irrational, e.g. Or as so exotic and alien that the normal sorts of categories through which Western observers would normally understand patterns of behavior don't apply. As I remember, for Said this is connected to the fantasy projection bit.

In any case, as for your question: "why [does] the US continually pursues policies that fail due to popular opposition?" I was hoping you (or LFC or someone else) would be able to provide some insight.

(I suppose there is a story you could tell if you followed the Said line. Something like: the exoticizing prevents a proper appraisal of consequences. But I'm not sure I know how to spell that out fully, let alone whether I endorse it.)

LFC said...

js. wrote:
To take the most obvious example, the reason that US policy did a u-turn towards Iran between 1975 and 1985 is 1979. That is, in this and other cases, the US has pursued policies that have engendered strong grassroots opposition.

I'm not a MidEast expert by any means, but it seems to me the history of the Iran-U.S. relationship, like that of some other relations in the area, can't be fully understood without the context of the Cold War. Without going back to the Mossadegh episode (a revisionist history of which was published in Foreign Affairs a while back), istm the US backed the Shah b.c. he was seen as a 'modernizer' and as anti-Communist. The growing opposition to him w/in Iran cd be ignored (relatively speaking) until it was too late. The Shah's strength was overestimated b.c there was every political incentive to overestimate it. If there were democratic, relatively secular alternatives they were ruled out as too leftist -- i don't know how much this applies to Iran specifically, but it does seem to have distorted US policy in general.

That is, faced with an authoritarian ostensible 'modernizer' who was anti-Communist or a democratic 'modernizer' but w some populist or left leanings, the former tended to be preferred during the Cold War by the US b.c of the anti-Communist element. Same story, to some extent, w/r/t Latin America, w/ in some cases even more horrific results than in the ME (viz. Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, etc.).

Explanation of US fp in the relevant periods can proceed by way of a 'master key' (oil, anti-Communism, serving the interests of US corporate elites, etc.), but if one rejects the 'master key' approach, as I tend to do, then you're going to have a more difficult problem, b.c explanation will have to be more contextual and provisional. Clearly there are some enduring themes (anti-Communism is one, 'modernization' and (to some extent) 'nation-building' another) but they will have to be applied w some nuance.

As Peter suggested in the post, one reason the US was inconsistent and ineffectual in the ME for a long while is that the consequences of fecklessness were not *all* that great. (Perhaps the same applies in Latin America, I'm not sure.)

From this standpoint, 1979 wd seem to be something of a key year, when it became fully apparent that there were going to be consequences: not only the Iranian revolution, but also the failed assault on the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Dec. '79, iirc) which set the stage for increasing hostility betw. the Saudi monarchy and radical Islamists (one strain of which, through various twists and turns and combinations, eventuated in Al Qaeda).

In sum (and I realize this is v. rambling, I had some Scotch earlier this evening), I'm not sure the US set out deliberately to pursue policies that engendered popular opposition. But the perceived imperatives of the Cold War and the elevation of Israel, esp after the 6 Day War, to the status of undisputed prime US ally in the region, created a context in which policies adopted for what looked like "sensible" reasons at the time ended up stirring opposition throughout the ME and the Arab world.

[I have to say that, to the best of my recollection, the first and last time I took a formal course that focused on ME and its politics was spring semester of 1979, my last semester of college. When, many yrs later, I studied IR as a grad student, I was sort of too old and, more importantly, didn't have the right set of full skills to become a real specialist in any particular region. Unfortunately.]

Ronan said...

Nice post Peter T.
I was going to leave it until the second post to comment, but I'll just put down one or two points on where I disagree with you (Unfortunately I find myself continually arguing the 'pro US' position on these things, which isn't really my perspective, but for the sake of devils advocacy....)
(1) If we want to decide whether US policy was a failure then I think we have to be clear on what US policy wanted to achieve. During the Iran/Iraq war, for example, i don't think we can see it as such because policy was basically to use the conflict to weaken both sides (which they did do, to a degree) I dont agree with that personally,morally or perhaps strategically, but based on the logic of US policy at the time I think it was arguably a success. The same goes for oil. If US policy has been to create a stable supply of oil, initially for US allies and then for the global economy, it has also been a success.
(2) I can't find the line now(i thought you used the word pawns?), but I think you are overstating US influence. I might be biased a bit as my interests are mainly in the Levant, where I think US policy has been more reactive than manipulative, rather than the Gulf (where the opposite is argubaly true, though I wouldnt say fully) Still I dont think even in the cases of the Gulf countries (or even Jordan) that the US relationship has been simply one of hegemon and client. The most obvious case is the 73 war when Sadat explictly wanted to bring the US further into regional politics to help negotiate the arab/israeli peace process. More generally I think arguments like Seale's 'struggle for syria'and Kerr's'the arab cold war' better explain todays regional dynamics than the more interventionist 90s/00s
(3)I would also favour a cooling of relations with Iran, and that seems to be happening to a point.But I think there's only so far that can go. There are factions within the Iranian regime (as well as within US politics) who wont allow a meaningful relationship develop at this point in time, and regionally(particularly with the saudis) it doesnt seem plausible either. So it's all well and good in theory, but in pratice I dont think will happen.
That's a little rushed,but I'll try get back to it for the next post and clarify bits as Im running off at the minute.

Ronan said...

On the question of US policy and popular opinion regionally. Amaney Jamal wrote an interesting book on that, reviewed critically here

(i dont personally agree with everything lynch says here, fwiw, Also if you need access for this article, and anyone doesnt have it, ill be happy to email it on if you let me know)

LFC said...

Just to clarify, when you say you "also favor a cooling of relations with Iran," what you mean is a cooling of US/Iranian tensions/hostilities. It's clear from the context but not nec. from the phrase 'cooling of relations'.

Also, I assume the Seale and Kerr are bks? Perhaps cd mention the titles briefly if you have them handy. Thks.

Ronan said...

LFC. I actually put the two book names in the previous comment (just not very clearly looking back, like you I had had a few last night ; ) ) Seale's is 'The Struggle for Syria' , Kerr's 'The Arab cold war'.. both have gone out of print , and are pretty expensive online, so I havent read them since my undergrad days.
Here's their argument updated for today

(Ill try get back expand on this and to the other question later)

LFC said...

Got it, thanks.

JS said...


Thanks. That's helpful, and I agree with a lot of it. I guess I'm inclined to incline towards anti-communism as a 'master key' a bit more (e.g., my sense is that the US did not take very kindly to lefty "nation builders"), but your points are well-taken.

Peter T said...


Fair points. To clarify re your first point, my take on US policy is that it often accomplishes some immediate aim at the expense of both the region and its own standing and interests over the longer run. Afghanistan is probably the best example, but Iraq comes close.

On your second point, my argument is that the US has done a poor job of recognising the limits of its influence. It's been bitten by its clients as often as by its enemies. This, it seems to me, is a failure of policy in Washington.

I agree Iran is central -it's the largest, oldest, most self-consciously national, most industrially advanced (other than Israel) state in the region. And it's geographically central. Bit like Germany in Europe. Which makes the US stance odd.

It's this puzzle of that US policy keeps shooting itself in the Middle Eastern foot that I have a stab at answering in Part 2.