Courtesy Reuters

Present at the Re-Creation

Washington's Muddled Middle East Policy

In This Review

A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East

By Lawrence Freedman
PublicAffairs, 2008
569 pp. $29.95

There is a feature of my seminars on U.S. Middle East policy at Princeton that I call "déjà vu all over again" -- with apologies to Yogi Berra. I ask students to assess the bungled efforts and missed opportunities of generations of U.S. diplomats and seek in them lessons for the future. They examine the hubris that drove the U.S. government to engineer the 1953 overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq's democratically elected government in Iran. This traumatic episode was conveniently forgotten by 1979, when National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski encouraged Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to use force against the opposition, ignoring the warnings of U.S. diplomats on the ground in Iran that the shah's reign was doomed. Similarly, the United States forgot the lesson of the limited and United Nations-approved 1991 war in response to Iraq's aggression in Kuwait when it launched an ideologically inspired invasion of Iraq in 2003. Likewise, in 2006, Washington seemed to have forgotten the fiasco that followed Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Rather than learn from the past, Washington backed Israel's ill-advised attempt to deliver a knockout blow against another Lebanese foe, this time Hezbollah. My students and I conclude -- only half-jokingly -- that U.S. policymakers ought to take the class before taking office.

They should also read Lawrence Freedman's provocative new book, A Choice of Enemies, a sweeping overview of the United States' responses to foreign policy crises in the Middle East over the past 30 years. The book poses a crucial question: Has the United States' Middle East policy consistently failed since World War II, or have the region's problems become so entrenched that they are impervious to change? Freedman, a professor at King's College London, is best known for his writings on war and is an admitted novice when it comes to the Middle East. Nevertheless, he has assembled an impressive array of sources and presents them well in A Choice of Enemies.

Taking the dramatic events of 1979 and the early 1980s -- the

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