Shlaim (Collusion Across Jordan, 1988), a leading historian of the Israeli revisionist school, offers a brief but suggestive overview of the US role in the Middle East. The Middle East was one of the major theaters for the Cold War, the principal source of energy of the West, and a strategically central region in geopolitical terms. Even with the Cold War over, it remains both significant and volatile. However, for the first time since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, only one great power is in play—the US. The many conflicts that plague the region have their roots in the Ottomans' disastrous decision to enter WW I on the German side. The result was a brief period of British hegemony after the war, with English meddling creating a region of unstable and undemocratic states whose rulers lacked legitimacy. The aftershocks are with us today. Regrettably, Shlaim says, American policy has recapitulated British mistakes, usually viewing the region through ``the distorting prism of the Cold War.'' American policy makers haven fallen into two groups: the globalists, who saw the area as an extension of US-Soviet jockeying and envisioned Israel as a strategic asset; and the regionalists, who suggested a more even-handed approach to Israel and the Arab states. As Shlaim traces the policies of the last 20 years, one notes that every time the globalists have taken charge of US policy, the results have been disastrous. Shlaim concludes by noting the failure of American policy makers to address the real problems of the region: the lack of democracy and human rights in Arab states and the gap between rich and poor throughout the area. He urges the US to encourage Israel to ``contribute to stability, democracy and economic development'' in the region while pursuing an even-handed policy toward the Israelis and Palestinian and Arab- state interests. A concise, passionately argued essay, sparked by Shlaim's dry wit and scathing sarcasm.
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