I just finished reading Andrew Bacevich’s latest book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East. This is a very good survey of the United States’ role in the Middle East starting with the Shah’s demise in Iran in 1979 continuing to the present (2016). Bacevich does a nice job juxtaposing a reported rhetorical question of the Shah’s that seems to set, at least one of the themes, for the entire book: “What will you do [the US] if one day Iran will be in danger of collapsing? Do you have any choice?” The Shah supposedly asked this question as he saw “Iran performing a critical security function that the United States was unable or unwilling to perform itself.” Ironically, Bacevich ends with Iran as well in the fight against ISIS trying to re-establish some sense of security in the region (even though Iran has a totally different idea of “regional security.” Iran wasn’t an American ally but they had effectively enlisted in the war against ISIS.
Bacevich also confronts several questions about America’s role in the Middle East, since today’s problems in the region are substantially greater than when the US got involved more than 30 years ago. Two main questions: “Why has the world’s mightiest military achieved so little even while itself absorbing very considerable losses and inflicting even greater damage on the subjects of America’s supposed beneficence?” And, “why in the face of such unsatisfactory outcomes has the United States refused to chart a different course?” An overriding theme to the answer to both questions: American hubris.
Bacevich isn’t afraid to pull any punches, either. When it comes to why we got involved in Iraq under Bush: “The US was intent on establishing the efficacy of preventive war; it was going to assert its prerogative of removing regimes it deemed odious, and it was seeking to reverse the practice of exempting the Islamic world from neo-liberal standards.” Similarly, Obama doesn’t fare any better: by electing Obama, “Americans once more entrusted the highest office in the land to a foreign policy neophyte”–and Bacevich’s analysis doesn’t get any better for Obama regarding Syria and the rise of ISIS.
Overall, this is a very good survey for anyone interested in America’s role in the Middle East over the the last 38 years.