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Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East

Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East
Author: Geoffrey Wawro
ISBN 13: 9780143118831
ISBN 10: 143118838
Edition: Reprint
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 2011-02-16
Format: Paperback
Pages: 736
List Price: $22.00

An unprecedented history of our involvement in the Middle East that traces our current quandaries there-in Iraq, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere-back to their roots almost a century ago.

Geoffrey Wawro approaches America's role in the Middle East in a fundamentally new way-by encompassing the last century of the entire region, rather than focusing narrowly on a particular country or era. The result is a definitive and revelatory history whose drama, tragedy, and rich irony he relates with unprecedented verve. Wawro combed archives in the United States and Europe and traveled the Middle East to unearth new insights into the hidden motivations, backroom dealing, and outright espionage that shaped some of the most tumultuous events of the last one hundred years. Wawro offers piercing analysis of iconic events from the birth of Israel to the death of Sadat, from the Suez crisis to the energy crisis, from the Six-Day War to Desert One, from Iran-contra to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rise of al- Qaeda. Throughout, he draws telling parallels between America's past mistakes and its current quandaries, proving that we're in today's muddle not just because of our old errors, but because we keep repeating those errors.

America has juggled multiple commitments and conflicting priorities in the Middle East for nearly a century. Strands of idealism and ruthless practicality have alternated- and sometimes run together-in our policy. Quicksand untangles these strands as no history has done before by showing how our strategies unfolded over the entire century and across the entire region. We've persistently misread the intentions and motivations of every major player in the region because we've insisted on viewing them through the lens of our own culture, hopes, and fears. Most administrations since Eisenhower's have adopted their own "doctrine" for the Middle East, and almost every doctrine has failed precisely because it's a doctrine-a template into which events on the ground refuse to fit. Geoffrey Wawro's peerless and remarkably lively history is key to understanding our errors and the Middle East-at last- on its own terms.

• The Jewish population of the U.S. increased from 250,000 to 4.8 million between 1882 and 1945. With 90% of this growing Jewish population concentrated in 9 tightly contested states, both FDR and Truman-as well as all future Presidents-supported a Jewish state in the Middle East despite Arab protests. (pp. 87-89)

• In the 1948 presidential election, Thomas Dewey had a stout pro-Israel plank in his platform; Truman felt he could do no less. He pledged "full recognition and development aid" to a Jewish state despite its relatively small numbers-625,000 Jews in Palestine versus 1.3 million Arabs-and tolerated Israel's brutal expulsion of 75% of Palestine's Arab inhabitants in 1948, creating the 844,000 Palestinian refugees, a number that has grown to 4.7 million today. (pp. 102, 112, 117-18.)

• The 1956 Suez Crisis-which shattered the British and French positions in the Middle East-stemmed from a U.S. provocation: the withdrawal of $400 million of U.S. support for the Aswan High Dam in 1954 to punish Gamal Abdel Nasser's anti-Western stance. Nasser went to Moscow for money instead; he also nationalized the British and French shares in the Suez Canal Company, provoking a punitive Anglo-French (and Israeli) invasion, which Eisenhower and illogically rolled back. (p. 211.)

• U.S. sales of Hawk surface-to-air missile systems to Israel in 1962 "set the precedent that created the US-Israeli strategic relationship: a multimillion dollar business in cutting-edge weaponry supplemented by military-to-military dialogues, joint exercises, and research and development." (p. 249.)

• From LBJ on, every president tolerated illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, which Rabin called "redeeming Israel's narrow hips." (p. 299.)

• Nixon and Kissinger lamented Saudi hypocrisy and their covert support of terrorist groups because "they had so little legitimacy." Terrified that Riyadh would go the way of that other Bedouin oil state-Libya, where a pro-U.S. monarchy fell to the Qaddafi coup in '69-Nixon turned a blind eye to Saudi misdeeds, as every U.S. president has since. (p. 293.)

• The Iranian Shah's close alliance with the U.S. led to surge in anti- Americanism, in a country that was traditionally pro-American. Iranians viewed U.S. arms sales as "pillage." Ayatollah Khomeini, in exile in Iraq and France, damned America: "you have torn up the roots of our independence." (p. 347.)

• Well-connected to the Saudi state and dynasty, Osama bin Laden started as a courier for Saudi charities; he traveled to Peshawar in 1981 to distribute funds and build a "services bureau" for foreign fighters that would morph into al-Qaeda. (pp. 384-85.)

• Paul Wolfowitz emerged in the Carter administration as an anti-Saddam hawk. The irony is that he viewed Iraq as a terrible threat because Iran's offsetting power had been collapsed by the fall of the Shah. Twenty-five years later, Wolfowitz would collapse Iraqi power, and leave Iran the peerless regional heavyweight. (p. 405.)

• Bin Laden viewed the U.S. failure to topple Saddam in 1991 as yet more evidence of American decadence. He moved al-Qaeda to Sudan in 1992, and began planning jihad against the US. (pp. 458-63.)

• President Clinton favored the Taliban as a law and order, anti-Iranian, anti-Russian movement that would also facilitate Unocal's gas pipeline from Turkmenistan ("the second Kuwait") to Pakistan. (pp. 478-79.)

• During the transition from Clinton to Bush 43, Clinton and his advisers warned George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice that al-Qaeda was the threat to U.S. interests. They were largely ignored. Bush laughed off a CIA briefing in August 2001 that warned of an impending attack inside the U.S., stating: "all right, you've covered your ass now." (pp. 486-89.)

• Bush and Cheney winked at Pakistan's parallel war against the US during Enduring Freedom. To buttress Musharraf, Cheney authorized "Operation Evil Airlift" from beleaguered Kunduz in November 2001. Pakistan's equivalent of the CIA, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), called it "the Great Escape": hundreds of ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda fugitives were flown to safety on Pakistani planes while the encircling Americans and Northern Alliance members watched passively. (pp. 497-98.)

• The CIA and State Department found no operational link between Saddam and al-Qaeda, so Bush turned intelligence analysis over to Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans (OSP) at the Pentagon. Feith's pet analysts cherry- picked worst-case intelligence to justify invasion, and mocked "the reality-based community" at CIA. (pp. 522-3, 526-7.)

• The neo-cons lamented the high cost of the "no-fly zones" ($1 billion/year), and posited a quick war to remove the cost. By 2005, the Iraq War would be costing more than $70 billion/year. (p. 523)

• Condoleezza Rice bears heavy responsibility for the disastrous Iraq War. In contrast to Brent Scowcroft, who was among the level-headed heroes of 1990-91, she utterly failed as National Security Adviser, permitting herself to be bullied and marginalized by Rumsfeld and Cheney. (pp. 527-8, 546.)

• Most of the "foreign fighters" in Iraq were not jihadis before the invasion; they were radicalized by the war itself. The CIA had warned of this before the war. (pp. 543, 573.)

• The Iraq War foolishly advertised the limits of U.S. power, which is one reason Iran is so boldly pursuing its nuclear weapons and missile programs today. (p. 594.)

Library Journal

Wawro (Univ. of North Texas; The Franco-Prussian War) has crafted a coherent and highly readable analysis of American involvement in the Middle East over the past century, covering everything from the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to the 2008 presidential election. Whereas many books have been written about one Middle East nation or one aspect of this topic, Wawro successfully provides the big picture, helpfully drawing together themes and patterns that have emerged across various U.S. presidential administrations. Although at times Wawro is quite critical of Israel, the Israel lobby, and the George W. Bush administration (all justifiably, many would argue), his overall approach is evenhanded and objective, largely avoiding partisan bias. VERDICT This is a very good survey of recent U.S. involvement in the Middle East. The book's emphasis on 1948 to the present makes it a useful companion to Michael Oren's Power, Faith, and Fantasy, which primarily focuses on 1776–1948. Recommended for readers seeking a deeper understanding of current events in the Middle East. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/09.]—Brian T. Sullivan, Alfred Univ., NY