The “current course of the Bush administration in the Middle East is a doomed one,” writes Khalidi (Arab Studies/Columbia Univ.; Palestinian Identity, 1997).
There are many historical reasons for being uneasy over the administration’s invasion of Iraq, among other actions in the region. But Americans seem to be manifestly allergic to historical facts, with the result, writes Khalidi, that “all too much of the extensive public debate about the relationship between the US and the Middle East, particularly since September 11, 2001, has been taking place in a historical vacuum.” If Americans don’t have much sense for history, the peoples of the Middle East surely do; they have a long memory for victories, and an even longer one for slights and injuries. Khalidi observes that America was generally well liked in the region until the beginning of the Cold War, when the rhetoric of coming as liberators was replaced by the reality of propping up corrupt dictators and staging coups in the name of containing the Soviet Union; whereas many older Middle Easterners, writes the author, have a memory of living under more or less democratic and constitutional systems of government, younger ones do not, and all share a sense that the US had something to do with their demise. Khalidi explores some of the recent history of the region, offering tantalizing asides that beg for elaboration, as when he notes that Saddam Hussein was once “among [Ba’th] party members colluding with the CIA in 1962 and 1963,” pushed into the Soviet camp by American favoritism for the Shah of Iran. In the face of intransigent unilateralism today, Khalidi suggests that the US strike a more balanced position vis-à-vis the Arab powers and Israel and that Iraq come under temporary international administration rather than American military occupation.
Useful if discomfiting reading for State Department types—and, perhaps, us all.