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Classic review: A World of Trouble

New York Times correspondent Patrick Tyler analyzes 50 years of US policy in the Mideast.

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Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s secretary of State, emerges as a master manipulator who secretly encouraged the Israelis to violate a cease-fire with the Soviet-backed Egyptians during the October war of 1973. He even withheld an offer Nixon entrusted him with delivering to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, in which the US president proposed a joint superpower initiative to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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According to Tyler, “Kissinger’s argument [was] that Israel had to win so the Soviets would lose,” and he allowed this conviction to overrule Nixon’s directives and the entire principle of superpower détente.

Kissinger was not the only one who abused his power, Tyler charges. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, he says, circumvented President Reagan in extending US support to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Like Kissinger, Haig wanted to crush anyone associated with the Soviets; for Haig, that meant allowing Israel to ride roughshod over Lebanon in pursuit of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Reagan eventually reasserted control and sent US Marines to Lebanon as peacekeepers, but they were subjected to a terrorist attack in 1983.

When Reagan ordered retaliation against Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, unsure of the identity of the culprits, did not implement the order.

There are a few shortcomings in “A World of Trouble.”

Tyler discusses only those presidential administrations – beginning with Eisenhower’s – that coincided with war or turmoil in the Middle East.

For information on US-Saudi Arabia relations, he relies too heavily on Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi ambassador to the US. And he criticizes President Carter’s reluctance to interfere in Iranian domestic affairs by arguing – without apparent irony – that the US and Britain had always meddled in Iran.

But these are minor.

Regrettably, there is no concluding chapter to this book. But Tyler’s recommendations – consistency in US foreign policy, continuous engagement with the Middle East, a more balanced approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, accommodation with the Islamic world combined with an unwavering commitment to punishing terrorists who attack US interests – are forcefully expressed throughout.

Serendipitously, the publication of “A World of Trouble” coincides with the beginning of a new presidency. President-elect Barack Obama and his incoming administration enjoy the perfect opportunity to heed Tyler’s sound advice.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf is a writer and freelance reviewer based in Beirut, Lebanon.

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