In This Review

The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East
The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East
By Ray Takeyh and Steven Simon
Norton, 2016, 406 pp

Takeyh and Simon survey ten episodes—including the 1953 coup in Iran, the 1956 Suez crisis, the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait—to make the case that U.S. strategy in the Middle East during the Cold War was remarkably successful. This is familiar terrain, and the authors do not introduce any significant new information, so their argument depends a great deal on interpretation. Throughout the Cold War, Washington protected oil markets, denied the Soviets increased access to the Arab world, and safeguarded Israel. But it is hard to discern an articulated U.S. strategy behind those goals. American officials rarely anticipated the moves of other key actors but rather lurched from one unanticipated crisis to another with reactive and improvised policies. The results were surprisingly good, given the disarray. Readers may conclude that matters could have been a lot worse—except, perhaps, when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.