New review of "Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East"

Martha Kessler, a retired CIA analyst published a review of my book in the new issue of Middle East Policy Journal. Sorry, no url available; so I justed pasted it here.
© 2006, The Authors Journal Compilation © 2006, Middle East Policy Council
Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East, by Leon Hadar. New York:Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 180 pages. $24.95, hardcover.

Martha Kessler, analyst, Central Intelligence Agency (ret.)

Leon Hadar’s stated purpose for this book is to stimulate a long-overdue debate in this country over U.S. policy in the Middle East. He does not spend too much time second guessing past decisions with “what if” analysis, but when he does, his command of the history of U.S. engagement in the Middle East is impressive and used adroitly throughout his criticism. What he does throughout the book is to deconstruct the underlying assumptions and inaccurate understandings upon which U.S. policies have been based and to suggest entirely new approaches to securing U.S. interests. He has a view, argues it well, and achieves his objective of stimulating thinking “outside the box” about failures that have dogged the United States in this part of the world for decades. Whether one agrees with his judgments or not, he pushes the reader to examine a long list of so-called givens of U.S. positioning in the region.
Central to Hadar’s discussion is his characterization of what he calls the Middle East paradigm, which has guided U.S. Middle East policy since the 1940s. At the heart of this paradigm is the belief that “competition with the Soviet Union made American involvement in the Middle East a costly but necessary way to protect American interests as the leader of the Western alliance.” There were three drivers of this vision: containment of the Soviet Union and its allies; protection of free access by Western economies to the energy resources of the region; and protection of a democratic Jewish Israel. Hadar argues that this paradigm and its underpinnings are now obsolete as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, changing relations between the United States and its Western allies, and the transformation of the Arab-Israeli dispute into a regional and cultural conflict or a local –– as opposed to Cold War –– dispute. Whereas these changes should have resulted in a re-examination and evolution of our assumptions and understanding of the dynamics of the region, Hadar contends that the Middle East paradigm persists, producing increasing costly, dangerous and ineffectual policy outcomes for the United States.
Hadar is quite taken with Thomas S. Kuhn, the historian of science who coined the use of the word “paradigm,” defined as a set of received beliefs. The author spends agood deal of time explaining how and why these received beliefs became so entrenched.War, international crisis and other increasing costs sometimes force the foreign-policyapparatus and the American public to examine those policies that no longer benefit theinterests of the American public, but usually inertia fed by vested interests in “issue areas” blunts the will and energy required to look hard at how best to serve American interests. Hadar uses the language of science in analogies to foreign-policy considerations. This is both effective and diplomatic.
The position that Hadar has come to, having deconstructed the foundation of the
Middle East paradigm as we know it, is that the United States should disengage from the Middle East. The catastrophe of 9/11, rather than stimulating a careful and thoughtful examination of the causes of the attack, triggered what Hadar believes is a strong tendency among foreign-policy practitioners to invest even more resources in sustaining the existing paradigm. In this case, this would include deeper intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq; a war on terrorism that has no real boundaries, geographic or legal; and a closerembrace of Israel.
So it is not surprising that if and when an individual dares to challenge the MEP
(Middle East Paradigm) to suggest that it should be reassessed and propose a new MEPbased on the notion of American disengagement from the Middle East, he or she is treated at best as a political Cassandra, or at worst as a political extremist, as an “isolationist,” the term that members of Washington’s foreign policy establishment usually use to bash those who disagree with them.
The author gives an unusual but generally fair accounting of how Presidents Bush and Clinton essentially protected the status quo and were often successful in managing the increasingly conflicting tenets of the Middle East paradigm as it had been passed down to them, then sent off “fire brigades” of diplomats to deal with occasional outbreaks of violence and juggled the seemingly incompatible U.S. commitments to Israel and America’s Arab allies. But there was baggage that came with spreading U.S. hegemony in the region as our influence strengthened in areas of Russian retreat in Central Asia and elsewhere. We contributed to the conditions that strengthened Osama bin Ladin and his terrorist network by “continuing the alliance with the Mujaheddin guerrillas in Afghanistan, tolerating Pakistani and Saudi support for the Taliban, maintaining a military presence in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, imposing sanctions on Iraq, and helping Israel preserve the status quo in Palestine.”
Hadar envisions a much larger role for the Europeans in stabilizing the Middle East than the United States has allowed Europe to play. Clearly, he believes a more influential Europe would have helped the region and helped us. He suggests, for example, that Washington could have declared victory in the Cold War and consequently reduced
American military and diplomatic commitments in the region, creating incentives for local players to reform their bankrupt political and economic systems and to manage their own security concerns. A lowered U.S. profile in the region would have pushed Europeans to protect their own interests. Under these conditions, the Europeans might have spent more time and international capital trying to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict, even if the United States lacked the political will to end the dispute for which it has taken full mediation responsibility.
Because the American public did not object to the cost of American involvement up through the 1990s, the formula and the paradigm — out of date though it was — seemed to be holding. The author argues that the most serious challenge arrived with the second Intifada and 9/11 at the beginning of the new millennium, when the American role went seemingly overnight from a fairly priced pax Americana to the huge expense of full-blown empire.
Now, most foreign-policy analysts see the neoconservative pilots of U.S. foreign
policy under the current Bush administration as dramatic departures from the norms of the foreign-policy establishment. Not so Leon Hadar. He believes they are the extreme but natural extension of the protectors of the Middle East paradigm. They took the gloves off to protect the paradigm — literally and figuratively. They were anxious to go to war with Saddam Hussein, to establish U.S. hegemony in Iraq with an attendant impact on the entire region and to make no apologies for this imperial project. To return to the tenets ofthe paradigm — the containment of the Soviet Union (or any other incompatible power),the provision of access to energy resources for the United States and its allies, and theprotection of a democratic and Jewish state in Israel — this dramatically more muscular stewardship has in the author’s view inflated our posture in key respects:
• Access to the region’s energy resources now no longer depends on earning the
goodwill of those who possess those resources but rather subjects them to American
military power.
• Balancing America’s commitment to Israel and to its Arab partners has become
transfigured into unapologetic, total support of Israel, thus subordinating Middle East peace negotiations to a nationalist Israeli agenda.
• Unilateral American military presence in the region has finally relegated Europe to observer status in the determination of the future of the Middle East.
This last point is clearly of major concern to Hadar:
…Neoconservatives based their strategy of unilateral American military presence in theMiddle East on the assumption that the European allies should not play any role indetermining the future of the Middle East. In fact, Europe was seen as a global rival that should be expelled from the region. As the neoconservative narrative describes it, an American-Israeli alliance in the Middle East would now be able to stand up to the global threat posed by a Euro-Arab axis in the region.
Indeed, much of the discussion focuses on the issue of Europe and its role in the region and its relationship to the United States in the context of the Middle East.
Hadar believes the U.S. war in Iraq and the neoconservative project in the region
have created a diplomatic rift between the traditional transatlantic security partners and fed pervasive anti-American sentiment throughout Europe, producing the most serious challenge to the Western alliance in the last half century. The author spends a good deal of time looking at the tattered relationship from a variety of perspectives, taking on such sensitive subjects as antisemitism, the culture of Jewish victimhood, fears of a German-French alliance, and the optic through which neoconservatives view these phenomena. Because Hadar’s European scholarship is as strong as his knowledge of the Middle East, the reader is able to review many of the underlying issues in the current strains between Washington and Europe and the perspectives of European scholars and journalists.
Throughout this tour d’horizon, Hadar sticks to his major thesis that despite the
crisis with Europe precipitated by Bush neoconservatives, the Middle East paradigm pursued by Bush and his predecessors is the real problem. The neoconservatives have
come and will go, but what needs to change is the fundamental trajectory of the U.S.
drive for dominance in the Middle East.
Hadar believes the United States can free itself from the conventional wisdom: that the American economy is dependent on the energy resources of the Middle East, and Washington must do something to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The author argues that the United States is not dependent on Middle East oil, gets over 70 percent of its energy resources from elsewhere, and in reality is more dependent on Latin America than the Middle East. Similarly, he pans the notion that Washington is uniquely positioned to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute, which threatens vital U.S. interests. That reality dissipated, he contends, with the end of the Cold War.
Whether one agrees with the basics of Hadar’s viewpoint, he makes a strong case that Europe’s key interests are embedded in the Middle East and that Europeans may not be able to continue in their secondary role. Europe’s unarguable reliance on Middle East oil, the huge immigration of peoples from the region into Europe, its proximity to the lethal arsenals developing in the area, and a host of other reasons put Europe in an entirely different geostrategic position than the United States vis-à-vis the Middle East.
The author’s outline of the costs to the United States of its drive for Middle East
hegemony and the dysfunction that drive has produced is provocative, as is his prescription for a “European takeover.” He sees the Bush I and Clinton administrations as failing to seize the opportunity of the collapse of the Soviet Union to re-evaluate seriously U.S. interests in the region and, instead, pursued the winning and maintaining of predominance in an imperfectly understood and unruly Middle East. This seemed a low-cost effort for some time, but both former presidents failed to take into account that a unipolar world order would likely not last. Hadar also charges these leaders and their policy elites with total failure of imagination in foreseeing longer-term costs and the rise of the nonstate actors, whose terrorist attacks against the U.S. interests exacted those increasing costs.
The neoconservatives of the Bush II administration are given an even worse report card:
These same elites would then unimaginatively pull from the script of traditional hegemonic behavior the invasion of first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Stuck in the Middle East paradigm, policymakers could not see any alternative. The rising military and diplomatic commitments ended up igniting the kind of anti-Americanism that was displayed in 9/11.
At the same time, the rising American commitments to Saudi Arabia and Israel not only increased each nation’s dependency on Washington but also raised long-term threats to their survival. Hadar writes with a flair not often found in foreign-policy writing, borrowing heavily from pop culture for his chapter titles and using the perspectives of sociology and the hard sciences to explain and illuminate his points. This style has the effect of pushing the reader outside the worn-out language of the Arab-Israel conflict and the Middle East peace process, and the conventional terminology of foreign policy. His style complements the boldness of his suggestions and the strength of his argumentation in achieving his primary objective: stimulating new thinking about the U.S. role in the Middle East.


Leo Strauss (mobile) said…
Congratulations on such a nuanced and perceptive review. Kessler clealy appreciates the importance of deconstructing the meta narrative that imprisons us to this day. Unfortunately, the prospect for improvement in 08 appear slim.

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