In This Review

Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East
Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East
By Philip H. Gordon
St. Martin's Press, 2020, 368 pp.

Gordon, a former White House coordinator for the Middle East, has written a book whose depiction of policymakers’ cheerful and carefree ignorance will have his readers wincing at virtually every page. Seven briskly told case studies— including the toppling of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the more recent indecisive opposition to the rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria—brilliantly illustrate how repeated U.S. attempts at regime change in the Middle East have produced “no case of clear success, some catastrophic failures, and universally high costs and unintended consequences.” He attributes the inability to resist the temptation to meddle in the Middle East to Americans’ sunny, extraordinarily naive can-do optimism, and his list of lessons doesn’t feature many surprises: yes, clients do typically have their own interests, and regional spoilers do often thwart success. Readers would be well served if, in his future work, Gordon were to train his sights on the equally obtuse relationship the United States has had with its so-called clients in the region, many of whom show up repeatedly as the spoilers in these stories. After all, the U.S. record of backing regimes in the region—such as that in Saudi Arabia—does not seem to have been a rousing success, either.