ABC News correspondent Cooley (Libyan Sandstorm, 1982) comprehensively recounts America's protracted involvement in the politics of the Middle East, which, he says, amounts to ``one of the costliest wars since Vietnam...in financial terms [and]...human suffering.'' Cooley traces what he sees as America's Mideast policy failures to its overreliance on the Shah of Iran, whose interests, he argues, America misidentified with its own. The author says that the Shah's collapse in 1979 touched off decades of confused American policymaking actuated by ignorance of the Islamic radicals' profound desire to rid the region of American influence, by Israeli and Saudi anxiety toward Iranian fundamentalism, and by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Cooley reviews familiar topics--the Iran-contra scandal and the US Marine debacle in Lebanon, for instance--but also provides novel historical insights into ancient conflicts in the region. For instance, he points out that ties between Iran and the Jewish community permitted Iranians to collude with Israelis in the arms-for-hostages deal. Cooley also discusses systemic inadequacies in America's policymaking bureaucracy that have paralyzed American policy--for example, the way that different American agencies and officials backed different sides in the Iran- Iraq war. A skillful weaving of ancient and more current history into an insightful analysis of America's policy problems in the Middle East.