Presumed Innocent

Lessons of the Past for the New Middle East

Innocent Abroad treats the United States' Middle East policy and performance in the region during the eight years of Bill Clinton's presidency. It is an "intimate" -- or, better, an insider's -- account written by a former senior official. And rather than a history of "peace diplomacy," it is a history of agreements made, agreements missed, the aftermath of a war that left in its wake an untidy resolution, and covert actions gone awry -- all within the context of the sole post-Cold War superpower's defining its role in the Middle East.

Rather than titling this book Innocent Abroad, it would perhaps have been better to evoke directly Mark Twain's plural -- The Innocents Abroad. Americans, Martin Indyk asserts, are the innocents, seeking to "make the Middle East over in America's image." This generates "a troubling naivete in the American approach to the Middle East that is part innocence, part ignorance, and part arrogance."

Yet Indyk's account does not in fact exhibit the dominance of innocence or ignorance, and arrogance is simply the usual attitude of great powers in dealing with lesser states. There are, however, different lessons to be learned from Innocent Abroad, some asserted by the author and others to be gleaned from a careful reading of the book.

AN INSIDER'S ACCOUNT

Indyk, born in London and raised and educated in Australia, where he earned a Ph.D. in international relations, came to the United States in the early 1980s. For a time, he worked as a researcher at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which calls itself "America's Pro-Israel Lobby." He left AIPAC to found the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think tank that he directed for some seven years. From there, he was recruited into the Clinton administration, where he served first as a senior official concerned with Middle East policy on the National Security Council and then twice as U.S. ambassador to Israel (April 1995 to September 1997 and January 2000 to July 2001), filling in the intervening years as assistant secretary for Near East affairs in the State Department.

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