In This Review

The Tragedy of the Middle East
The Tragedy of the Middle East
By Barry Rubin
Cambridge University Press, 2003, 296 pp.

Rubin argues that Middle Eastern rulers hang onto control with police-state tactics and mollify the masses with anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric. Economic development gets short shrift. Palestinians have never really accepted the existence of Israel. Even the Islamists, while opposed to the existing regimes (Iran aside), fit into the resulting political gridlock since regimes can concede some Islamist goals while diverting Islamist rage to the satanic outsider. Rubin's penultimate chapter shifts focus to argue that America's Middle East policy has been strikingly benign, implying that Middle Eastern rulers or their populaces must be cynical or perverse not to appreciate this. Rubin is a seasoned specialist. His empirical case is not trivial and his listing of radical statements by sundry Arab and Iranian leaders is telling. Nonetheless, other accounts might plausibly distinguish more among the states lumped together here, explain the deep-seated antipathy to the outsider (the United Kingdom yesterday, the United States today), and put more emphasis on the role of Israel in the developments he depicts. The Tragedy of the Middle East, written in these times, is likely to be read as a brief for massive regime change throughout the Arab world and Iran.