The Bad Old Days

James Traub in The New York Times:

SOWING CRISIS: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East

By Rashid Khalidi

Traub-650 Had the White House aides who scripted Barack Obama’s remarks to Al Arabiya television in January consulted Rashid Khalidi’s latest work beforehand, the president might not have so blithely vowed to restore the “respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago.” In “Sowing Crisis,” Khalidi, who holds the Edward Said chair of Arab studies at Columbia and is a major pro-Palestinian voice in American scholarship, argues that Washington’s drive for hegemonic control over the geostrategic and oil-rich axis of the Middle East stretches back three-quarters of a century, and has continued unabated to this day.

Khalidi’s central argument is that the Bush administration’s interventionist posture toward the Middle East is no mere post-9/11 aberration, but represents an especially bellicose expression of a longstanding campaign. Today’s enemy is terrorism; yesterday’s was Communism. And just as the threat of Communism was wildly exaggerated 50 years ago, so, these days, “the global war on terror is in practice an American war in the Middle East against a largely imaginary set of enemies.” ­Khalidi’s point is not that American policy toward the Middle East has been consistently hys­terical; rather, he says, it has been consis­tently cynical, exploiting an apocalyptic sense of threat in order to achieve the kind of dominance to which great powers, what­ever their rhetoric, aspire.

More here.