In This Review

Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East
Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East
By Christopher Davidson
Oneworld, 2016, 688 pp.

According to Davidson, for more than a century, the intelligence and military establishments of the United Kingdom and the United States have been leading a hidden struggle against implicitly progressive forces in the Middle East, driven by a desire for geopolitical advantage and the control of oil. Notwithstanding the declaration of a “war on terror,” Davidson believes that the preferred instruments of the Americans and the British have been Islamist movements: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, and, most recently, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). The Americans and the British have often found themselves fighting their own proxies, but they knew that would happen, Davidson claims. They therefore fight halfheartedly, he contends, so that such groups continue to survive. Nearly all of Davidson’s sources are in the public domain: he uncovers little original evidence for his argument and instead assembles familiar pieces into an unfamiliar shape. The results are unconvincing. For example, if Western powers fostered ISIS in order to drive a Sunni wedge between Iran and Syria, why did they bother to topple Saddam Hussein, who already played that role? More troubling, Davidson’s analysis denies agency to Islamists, Middle Easterners, and pretty much everyone else: in his view, we are all merely pawns in the shadow wars.

Correction Appended (February 16, 2017):

An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that Shadow Wars uncovered no original evidence for its author's main argument.