Sunday, March 15, 2009


James Traub has a review of Rashid Khalidi's Sowing Crisis in today's Sunday Book Review in The New York Times.

Khalidi argues that for at least the last 75 years, the United States has been meddling in Middle East affairs with a goal of establishing a hegemonic control over the oil and wealth of the countries there. The case of Iran is no exception.

Writes Traub:

"Khalidi’s central argument is that the Bush administration’s interventionist posture toward the Middle East is no mere post-9/11 aberration, but represents an especially bellicose expression of a longstanding campaign. Today’s enemy is terrorism; yesterday’s was Communism. And just as the threat of Communism was wildly exaggerated 50 years ago, so, these days, “the global war on terror is in practice an American war in the Middle East against a largely imaginary set of enemies.” Khalidi’s point is not that American policy toward the Middle East has been consistently hysterical; rather, he says, it has been consistently cynical, exploiting an apocalyptic sense of threat in order to achieve the kind of dominance to which great powers, whatever their rhetoric, aspire."

Khalidi reminds readers that it was the U.S. that overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran in 1953 when Mossadegh threatened to nationalize Iran's oil industry. Because of U.S. plotting against Mossadegh, the C.I.A. was able to bring back and install the Shah, a hated figure for many nationalistic Iranians.

Traub writes:

"Most histories of America’s role in the Middle East, like Michael B. Oren’s Power, Faith and Fantasy,” focus on the naïveté and misguided idealism of a nation much given to moral crusades. Khalidi looks to interests rather than principles. His story of America’s active role in the Middle East begins in 1933, when the consortium known as Aramco signed an exclusive oil deal with Ibn Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia. Khalidi reminds us of familiar if squalid acts of American intervention, like the role of the C.I.A. in the 1953 overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran, who had championed the nationalization of his country’s oil industry. Khalidi also describes lesser-known ones, including the delivery of “briefcases full of cash” to Lebanon’s pro-Western president Camille Chamoun in order to help Chamoun rig the 1957 parliamentary election."

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