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A World of Trouble by Patrick Tyler
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A World of Trouble

by Patrick Tyler

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The problem with journalists writing large scale history is that they import so many journalistic tropes. Your story for the New York Times has to start with a half paragraph about how poor Abdul's shack is surrounded on all sides by desert and razor wire, and there are rockets whizzing overhead every fifteen minutes, and give us cod-insights into Abdul's character, and only *then* can you get to the point. So Tyler starts chapters with a couple of pages of guff about the landscape around [insert person's house here], often highly personalized ("I first met Abdul when I was in Iraq for the 1994 conference on flippant book reviewing...")... and only then gets to the point, which is an exhaustive discussion of American foreign policy and diplomacy towards the middle east (which includes Egypt, but not, for some reason, Afghanistan) between Eisenhower and Clinton, with a bit on Bush II and Obama tacked on at the end.

The other problem is that journalists write like they're private investigators, following up every lead. Whereas what people need to know can be summed up very easily, without long digressions into the character flaws of minor Israeli diplomats.

All of which is to say this book is very informative, and about 200 pages too long. The take-away, if you're after such a thing, is that the American government never does the right thing: always too much military response, or too little; too much leaning on middle eastern governments, or too little, etc etc... That obviously can't be true, but at least it's balanced. An interesting theme that he doesn't make explicit: many of the mis-steps and missed chances for peace might have been due to the soi disant democratic processes of the U.S. and Israel. If you worry more about getting re-elected than doing the best thing, you will most likely not do the best thing, and that became very clear throughout the course of this book.

Finally, the conclusion is hilarious. "Muslim youth yearns for the same personal fulfillment and opportunity as youth everywhere. They seek the same advancement in culture, science and technology that market capitalism can deliver to peoples who have been held back by dictators and the orthodoxies of the old world." A day or two after I read that I heard an analyst for Barclay's bank (I think; possibly some other bank, but definitely a bank) suggesting that the protests in Brazil are a cry from a people who has had it with restrictive government regulation. Yes. That is precisely it. Everyone wants more input from multinational corporations! Everyone! Only then can their culture advance! Nobody wants better and more government services! Not idea what made Tyler throw that idiocy at the end of an otherwise balanced and intelligent work. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374292892, Hardcover)

The White House and the Middle East—from the Cold War to the War on Terror

The Middle East is the beginning and the end of U.S. foreign policy: events there influence our alliances, make or break presidencies, govern the price of oil, and draw us into war. But it was not always so—and as Patrick Tyler shows in this thrilling chronicle of American misadventures in the region, the story of American presidents’ dealings there is one of mixed motives, skulduggery, deceit, and outright foolishness, as well as of policymaking and diplomacy.

Tyler draws on newly opened presidential archives to dramatize the approach to the Middle East across U.S. presidencies from Eisenhower to George W. Bush. He takes us into the Oval Office and shows how our leaders made momentous decisions; at the same time, the sweep of this narrative—from the Suez crisis to the Iran hostage crisis to George W. Bush’s catastrophe in Iraq—lets us see the big picture as never before. Tyler tells a story of presidents being drawn into the affairs of the region against their will, being kept in the dark by local potentates, being led astray by grasping subordinates, and making decisions about the internal affairs of countries they hardly understand. Above all, he shows how each president has managed to undo the policies of his predecessor, often fomenting both anger against America on the streets of the region and confusion at home.

A World of Trouble is the Middle East book we need now: compulsively readable, free of cant and ideology, and rich in insight about the very human challenges a new president will face as he or she tries to restore America’s standing in the region.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:47 -0400)

Tyler draws on newly opened presidential archives to dramatize the approach to the Middle East across U.S. presidencies from Eisenhower to George W. Bush, showing how each president has managed to undo the policies of his predecessor, often provoking anger against America.… (more)

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