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War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History [Paperback]

Avi Shlaim
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Jun 1996
Focusing on the last half-century, this text illuminates the four phases of external involvement - Ottoman, European, superpower, and American - that have moulded the political evolution of the Middle East. It assesses the past roles of Britain, France and the former Soviet Union, clarifies how power and influence have shifted in the aftermath of the Cold War, and appraises both the recurrent myopia of the US and the country's essential function as a mediator.

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War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History + The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World + Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations
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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; Revised edition edition (27 Jun 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140245642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140245646
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 13 x 1.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 488,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The Ottoman Empire did not simply decline and disintegrate from within; it was destroyed from without. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good for amateurs and serious students 14 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was recommended as background reading for a student going to study Arabic at university. I'm not an Arabic student but started reading her copy and couldn't stop. I feel I know more than I did about a complicated area of contemporary importance. It is concise, it is clear. It was written a while ago and much has happened in the Middle East since then but it is still worth reading. No one book can explain the problems in the Middle East but this is a good start for those who are interested in trying to understand.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I laughed I cried 12 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Concise and always human view of the conflicts I would urge anyone interested to try this first or second if you are interested it will add to what you know.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and succinct 22 May 2000
By Brandon Walls - Published on Amazon.com
Mr. Shlaim does an excellent job of clearly defining the reasons for recent troubles in the Middle East. He focuses on the period since World War I, and on three conflicts: The Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran-Iraq war, and the Persian Gulf War. He is fair and objective, though that often means being critical of U.S and British involvemnet in the region. However, no party escapes deserved criticism. This book is short and concise, but is only meant to be a primer for understanding the politics of the Middle East. It is not meant for those who already have knowledge beyond the basics. I strongly recommend it to those readers who would like the background information necessary to begin understanding current situations in the Middle East.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable classic - please bring out a new edition! 16 Dec 2005
By gdotetcetera - Published on Amazon.com
When this first came out I nearly missed it because it appeared too short to be anything but a simplistic popularised summary. Thank goodness I did start browsing, because not only did the style have me hooked, the argument's balance and lucidity, and (whatever Likudnik propagandists may say) the thoroughly scholarly grounding of the account, made me realise that here at last I had the perfect introductory text for the intelligent student entering upon a study of modern Middle Eastern history and politics. It has been a top recommendation in my final-year university course on Middle East politics ever since. The only frustration has been that, since it went out of print in the UK, my students have had to rey on the few library copies and my own. I shall now be directing them to Amazon to get their own copy - and order some more for the library.

The book somehow manages to synthesise a mass of historical detail and controversy into a straightforward but finely judged account, bringing out all the key themes and dynamics: this is not only a list of facts and events, but a compelling analysis. He brings to life especially well the interplay of external actors (especially Britain, France and the US) and regional factors (the calculations of regional elites, balancing between dynastic/regime ambitions and the constraints of the international environment; and in places the outbursts of popular anger against both regimes and outsiders - including against the influx of Jewish settlers and eventually the establishment of Israel).

The book wears its scholarship and erudition lightly - but it is perhaps only someone as thoroughly grounded in the disciplines of International Relations and History as is professor Shlaim, that could perform this feat with such apparent ease and elegance.

Serious scholars of the region, while perhaps willing to quibble with small details, will (and indeed do) agree about the author's mastery of the material and the soundness of his judgement. That he ties a number of observations to the historical analysis that have a political flavour about current events (e.g. about US foreign policy), does not make the historical analysis itself any less rewarding. Nor indeed can the conclusions regarding the current shape of the Palestine problem be dismissed (as happens in one or two of the other reviews on this site) except by those with the sorts of preconceived convictions (and political agendas?) that brook no challenge.

This is a little gem of a book, and one of those few that serve the wider public as well as the novice student of Middle Eastern affairs. Buy it and help persuade the publishers (and the author!) to bring out an updated edition for the mid-2000s!
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to the history of the Middle East 27 Feb 2004
By Abdullah Z Jefri - Published on Amazon.com
To an outside observer the Middle East seems to be a very irrational region that is occupied with conflicts of unexplainable driving forces. To people involved in these conflicts, however, the whole world's attitude towards them seems to be either prejudiced or odd to say the least. Thus, it is a rare opportunity to run into anyone who is able to dig out the factors that influence the region and explain them rationally, which is why reading this book would prove to be a very enriching and valuable experience.
It is hard to imagine any person capable of undertaking this endeavor better than Avi Shlaim, an Oxford professor of international relations. The fact that Mr. Shlaim was born in Baghdad, grew up in Israel, and graduated from London is evident of the magnitude of his viewpoint and his ability to grasp the big picture.
In this short book (146 pages) the author introduces the post-Ottoman Middle East, a decaying region that fell prey to the colonial western powers subsequent to World War I. And while one might suspect that this introduction is too far back in history and has little relevance to the Middle East of today, Mr. Shlaim argues to the contrary. You can trace, asserts the author, almost all of the current conflicts in the Middle East to the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916 and the Balfour Declaration in 1917. These historical milestones were designed by the colonial powers to disengage from their colonies in the Middle East, but they were devised without any concern for the political and cultural landscape of the region. In Mr. Shlaim's words, "the postwar order imposed by Britain and the Allies created a belt of turmoil and instability stretching from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. The destruction of the Ottoman empire was not followed by a new order but a new disorder."
Analysis of regional history beyond that point is divided among two opinions. The first being the conventional view of external forces playing the decisive part in the political evolution of the contemporary Middle East, while the second believes that the dominant feature was the manipulation of the international powers by regional powers. The author takes a stand between these views, believing that regional powers did enjoy more leverage in dealing with outside powers than is generally recognized while being heavily influenced by the external powers. Mr. Shlaim divide external involvement into four phases: the Ottoman, the European, the superpower, and the American.
Avi examines every phase and not only explains the factors that created the history we know (or would come to know) but also investigates the motives behind every action and every policy. The reader is left with a satisfyingly clear and coherent picture of the Middle East right to the end of the 20th century, and by the conclusion of the book you will be able to comprehend the politics of the Middle East onward.
The only drawback is the fact that the book ends before the events of September 11 and the invasion (or liberation) of Iraq. These two events are earthshaking and are in effect turning points for the Middle East. However, the factors laid out by Avi in this book are the ones the brought about those two events, which is telling of the accuracy of Mr. Shlaim's analysis and insight.
Another great feature of this book is its lack of political-correctness. The author will not shy away from statements such as blaming "Reagan's idleness, intellectual mediocrity, and lax leadership" for the incoherent US policy towards the Middle East during his presidency, or from stating "what a closed, dark place" Syria still was when other regional leaderships (including the Palestinian) demonstrated slight improvement in mindset. These accusations are not simple emotional outcries, for they are the culminations of thorough analysis and rational and impartial observation. The author does cast his blame fairly, in my humble opinion, and is not prejudiced by his religion or his ethnicity, which might discomfort some bigoted readers.
In conclusion, this is a book very suitable for any reader interested in the Middle East, even if slightly given how short it is. The reader is not required to have any background information about the region as the book provides a proper introduction accompanied with several political maps of different eras.
This book is definitely a must-buy and a great read.
22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb analysis from one of the best of Israel's historians 11 Aug 2002
By "nukemind" - Published on Amazon.com
Avi Shlaim's incisive comprehension of Near Eastern geopolitics is evident in this short yet compelling critique of what has been wrong with America's involvement in the Mid-East. Shlaim points out that America's outlook has been warped by seeing a Soviet threat in every corner rather than simply confronting it where it actually existed (such as in Afghanistan). For this reason, Shlaim's contends, America has had a two-pronged (and confused, flawed, and ultimately detrimental) policy: globalist and confrontational designed to "contain" Soviet influence and regionalist/rationalist which would take each situation in the world and deal with it as per the local state of affairs. What is amazing is that the globalist approach often had the opposite effect because it often drove Arab states to become Soviet clients vis-à-vis the Israeli situation. Reagan, for example, was obsessed with the Soviet threat (and rightly so at the time), but he was shortsighted and unable to extricate regional conflicts such as those between Israel and Palestine and the destructive Iran-Iraq from the possibility of Soviet intervention. Of course the US didn't turn itself into the master puppeteer in the Mid-east until it forced Britain, France, and Israel to back out of Egypt in 1956. This marked the end of direct imperialism and the beginning of American hegemony wherever American interests lay. So why did the US start supporting Israel? Many reasons, Shlaim explains. Israel wisely positioned itself as a natural ally of the west and promoted the idea that it was opposed to Soviet Communism in the region (this played big with the gullible American masses, but not with American realists and academics). Israel had the most democratic society in the region (albeit in apartheid form) and was related to Americans as such by the so-called "Friends of Israel" (including groups of Jewish Americans, but not all, as well as many Christian fundamentalists and others). The American-Israeli interest groups promoted a hugely successful propagandist campaign that made any criticism of Israel synonymous with anti-Semitism and convinced many Americans that supporting Israel in her imperialist ventures was actually stabilizing the region when, in fact, it had the opposite effect. American foreign policy, Shlaim argues, was not to promote a "New World Order" but to entrench the Old Order that had existed since post-Ottoman times. The local perception of the disillusioned masses was that the US was the supporter of authoritarian regimes dependent upon American military assistance and as guarantors of the status of elites (the downfall of the Shah of Iran was largely due to American short-sighted support of his oppressive regime) of the region. What's more the wanton death and destruction that was continuously fueled by America's arms shipments to Iran (covertly and illegally done during the Reagan administration and subsequently dubbed the Iran-Contra Affair) and Iraq. What was the point of American foreign policy in the region? To safeguard American interests wherever possible, even at the expense of local populations. Why did the US leave Saddam in power in Iraq? In order to promote the Old Order that has been in existence since the carving up of the Ottoman Empire into unnatural states. The British and the French had created unnatural nations in the post-Ottoman period and the US thought it unwise to allow Iraq to disintegrate for no credible reason. Where was the US after it told the Kurds and Shiites to rebel against Saddam? America's vanishing act led to the deaths of thousands of Iraqi opposition forces and all to appease the Turks and to keep Iraq as weak as possible rather than pressing for a democratic Iraq which could stand as a beacon for progressive change in the region. What's also interesting is that Shlaim compares different American administrations and how the peace process would move forward when direct American pressure was brought to bear (such as under Bush Sr. who did not depend upon the Jewish American support) upon Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories (the parallels with the resolutions calling for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait are almost identical to those calling for Israel's withdrawal). The peace process would then get stalled every time the US resumed its blank check policy of supporting Israel's imperialist ventures when substantively receiving nothing in return except greater instability (this was the opinion of Baker and Bush Sr.). Shlaim argues that many of the solutions that the US could promote and enforce as the world's hegemonic power involve threatening to cut aid to Israel until they comply with UN resolutions. A natural Iraqi breakup would also actually promote greater stability in the region. With the Israeli "threat" gone, the region's radicals would find themselves without an audience to sponsor instability in the region, Shlaim contends. Why does the US public remain unable to comprehend the complexities of this conflict, which has poisoned America's image around the world? Because of misinformation and propaganda, short-sighted and flawed foreign policy, and selfish actions that keep the oil flowing but hurt civilian populations by the millions. Rather than simply taking the usual one-dimensional view that the region is simply full of radical primitives, Shlaim argues that there are clear patterns of logical response going on. Radicals aren't born in a vacuum. The seeds have to be planted and nurtured and the seeds of instability have had as their sole gardener, the US. Only a logical and CONSISTENT regional approach to the Near East can actually turn the perception of the US as a malevolent imperialist bully into a very plausible view of the US as an even-handed promoter of democratic rights and, in essence, the true American way and not the current policy of short-term elitist support and resource exploitation and catering to domestic interest groups such as AIPAC (the most prominent pro-Israeli lobby in Washington). The US does not have to be despised in the region. All it takes is more interest and action by the American masses and an independent press and political system that does not require private funding to function.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Succint Intro to International Relations of Middle East 18 April 2007
By Faruk Ekmekci - Published on Amazon.com
This book is a nice introduction to the great powers' influence on international relations of Middle Eastern countries. Surely, it offers a partial picture which is mostly about the role of great powers in shaping international relations in the Middle East. But it does a good job in doing what it does. Some of the stories and argumensts are so important for understanding contemporary conflicts in the Middle East. Here are some excerps from the books:

"The Ottoman Empire had provided a far from perfect political system, but it worked. During WWI Britain and it allies destroyed the old order in the Arabic-speaking Middle East without considering the long-term consequences."

"Nixon and Kissenger also aided the shah in his compaign to destabilize the Ba'ath regime in Baghdad. In 1972 they agreed to covert American-Israeli-Iranian action in support of the Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq."

"[regarding Iran-Iraq war] Kissinger summed up the general preference when he indicated that the best outcome would be for both sides to lose."

"[The Iran-Iraq war] started as a result of rivalries inside rather than outside, but Reagan's intervention prolonged it unnecessarily."

"On July 31 [1990], three days before Iraqi troops charged into Kuwait John Kelly [the US assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian Affairs] testified on Capitol Hill that America had no treaty and no commitement obliging it to send forces should Kuwait be overrun."

"[The Gulf War] also demontrated that Americans are better at short, sharp burst of military intervention designed to restore the status quo than at sustained political engagement to resolve the undrlying origins of instability in the Middle East."

"Most of the American mistakes in the last half century can be traced to the combination of globalism and the Israel-first approach."
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