A World of Trouble The White House and the Middle East--from the Cold War to the War on Terror

Patrick Tyler

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

656 Pages



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In this gripping story of American misadventures in the Middle East, Patrick Tyler shows how U.S. presidents—even the best-intentioned—have repeatedly taken unsound, dangerously naïve actions in the region. Again and again, seemingly principled White House diplomatic efforts there have fallen to the pressures of domestic politics; foundered because of poor execution; or, worse, been undermined by duplicity, deceit, and outright foolishness.

Tyler dramatizes the troubled U.S. approach to the Middle East—from the Suez crisis to the Iran hostage debacle to the two wars against Iraq—in this sweeping, comprehensive narrative, revealing the big picture as never before. He tells a story of presidents being drawn into Middle East affairs against their will, being kept in the dark by local potentates, being left astray by grasping subordinates, and making decisions about the internal affairs of countries they hardly understand. Most tellingly, he shows how each president has managed to undo the policies of his predecessor, often fomenting both anger against America in the streets of the region and confusion at home. And in a new afterword, he considers the consequences of George W. Bush's presidency in the region and the challenges faced by President Obama.

A World of Trouble is the Middle East book we need now: compulsively readable, free of cant and ideology, and rich in insight about the complex passions Americans have about our country's approach to the region.


Praise for A World of Trouble

"An authoritative, richly detailed account of American policy in the Middle East . . . [Tyler] writes vividly, allowing the reader access to White House meetings, huddles in the corridors of power, seats at international summits."—Adam LeBor, The New York Times

"Tyler . . . has applied his formidable reporting skills and narrative gifts to diplomatic history . . . A World of Trouble couldn't be more timely."—Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

"Patrick Tyler . . . has written an engaging but idiosyncratic account of U.S. interactions with the Middle East from 1956 onward."—Steven Simon, The Washington Post

"If you are going to read just one book about US policy toward the Middle East, Patrick Tyler's new tome should not be it. But if you read about it regularly, out of fascination with its history and religious significance or fear of its terrorists and oilmen, A World of Trouble ought to be on your list. Tyler starts out with a near-overdose of opinions . . . But before this becomes fatal Tyler reverts from policy wonk to what he really is—a fine, deep newspaper reporter. Tyler documents not the interest of Israel but the cost in treasure and blood that the United States and the Middle East peoples have paid during decades without a coherent US policy in the region. He shows vividly the damage done by Israeli and Arab leaders alike in persistently bringing too little, too late, to the peace process."—Charles A. Radin, The Boston Globe

"Excellent . . . [An] ambitious new history."—Kevin Peraino, Newsweek

"[A World of Trouble] is fast-paced and well-sourced . . . For anyone needing a reminder of how America got into its present pickle in the region, this is a brisk, enjoyable way to get it."—The Economist

"As Barack Obama prepares to move into the White House, expectations are rising that bouquets rather than shoes will be lobbed at him in the Mideast. Patrick Tyler's new book on the region, A World of Trouble, would make a good addition to the presidential briefing. Given recent events in Gaza, Obama needs all the context he can get. From President Dwight D. Eisenhower's idealistic view of Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt to George W. Bush's adventure in Iraq, U.S. policy in the Mideast is seen by many as one continuous and tragic failure. Few journalists know this as well as Tyler, who has reported from the region for both The New York Times and The Washington Post."—George Walden, Newsday

"In A World of Trouble, New York Times chief correspondent Patrick Tyler distills 25 years of journalistic experience and a mountain of declassified government documents into an erudite, unusually eloquent analysis of a half century of United States policy toward the Middle East. Relying on information newly made available from presidential archives, Tyler takes readers on a tour of American relations with the Middle East from the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower through that of George W. Bush. But where Tyler particularly excels is in tackling the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, a thorny subject that assumes center stage for several chapters. Though there have been the occasional breakthroughs in reconciliation efforts—principally the Carter-brokered Camp David Accords—Tyler sees the timidity of some US presidents in the face of Israeli hawkishness as a major impediment to lasting peace . . . The US approach to Iraq, which Tyler dissects in meticulous fashion throughout the book, provides another example of baffling inconsistency. Ronald Reagan ended up supporting both sides in the Iran-Iraq War; George H.W. Bush encouraged Shiites to revolt against Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, then failed to come to their aid; Bill Clinton dithered on supporting CIA-organized Iraqi coup plotters, which led to the compromise of the operation and the deaths of the plotters; and George W. Bush invaded Iraq without planning for the postwar period. But Tyler does not restrict himself to presidential blunders. He pointedly assails the machinations of several cabinet members as well. Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon's secretary of State, emerges as a master manipulator who secretly encouraged the Israelis to violate a cease-fire with the Soviet-backed Egyptians during the October war of 1973. He even withheld an offer Nixon entrusted him with delivering to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, in which the US president proposed a joint superpower initiative to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict . . . Tyler's recommendations—consistency in US foreign policy, continuous engagement with the Middle East, a more balanced approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, accommodation with the Islamic world combined with an unwavering commitment to punishing terrorists who attack US interests—are forcefully expressed throughout. Serendipitously, the publication of A World of Trouble coincides with the beginning of a new presidency. President-elect Barack Obama and his incoming administration enjoy the perfect opportunity to heed Tyler's sound advice."—Rayyan Al-Shawaf, The Christian Science Monitor
"In the rush to get books on to the president's bedside table, Tyler's account of how Obama's predecessors and their advisers not only missed their chances but made things worse by an increasing partiality for Israel, a vendetta with Iran and a bungled invasion of Iraq deserves to be on the top of the pile. It is an anthology of cautionary tales for a new president—a compendium of how not to do it, and, if only obliquely, a guide to how to do better in the future. If Obama ends his first term without registering some considerable success in the Middle East, the last chance for a moderate order in that region may pass. It falls to him, in other words, to turn round the long record of American failure. Success may in many areas come from doing less, from more modest aims, and from retreating from the attempt to control the affairs of others. But if more modesty is the general prescription, the exception is the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, where both sides need American mediation, and where one side, Israel, needs to face the reality that it cannot indefinitely dominate its neighbours by drawing on American weaponry and resources. The great virtue of Tyler's book is that it is so relentlessly personal. It may be criticised by some for the limited attention it pays to underlying causes, such as America's determination to secure oil resources and the constraints of the cold war, or to cultural factors, such as the west's early infatuation with Israel's military successes, and, more recently, the Christian right's beliefs about the end of the world. But Tyler is a reporter, not an academic. He is interested in moments—moments when confused and angry leaders and their counsellors swear at one another, weep, get drunk, or tell outrageous lies . . . The book is studded with such choice anecdotes, some of them the product of Tyler's research into recently declassified material, some of them culled from his reporting over the years in the Middle East for the Washington Post and the New York Times. Many originate with Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, who has clearly been a close contact for Tyler. If there are no massive revelations, there is a lot of vivid and sometimes astounding new detail. The picture that Tyler paints is of distracted presidents pushed this way and that by advisers who were often ignorant or willful and sometimes both. Tyler is forthright in a way American journalists usually are not. He characterises L Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in post-invasion Iraq, in one line as 'an excessively self-confident Washington bureaucrat' and similarly dismisses John M Deutch, appointed by Clinton to head the CIA, as 'an arrogant and vain Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist.' This may sometimes be unfair, but it is a refreshing change from the formalistic even-handedness that marks some American writing on foreign policy . . . Tyler rightly reserves his harshest words for presidents. He lets Eisenhower off lightly, praising him for facing down the British over Suez but failing to mark his card for joining the British in the 1953 coup against Mossadeq, an act that had grave long-term consequences. His catalogue of blame begins with Lyndon Johnson for failing to demand both that Israel return the territories it conquered in the six-day war and cease development of nuclear weapons. Those decisions were momentous, because they allowed Israel to lock itself into a position in which military domination of the region was the governing principle of policy, and they made the US a party to that domination . . . His last chapter, on George W Bush's time in office, is unexpectedly brief. But it completes a formidable charge sheet against the occupants of the White House over the last half century which is, in its page-by-page human detail, as gripping as it is depressing."—Martin Woollacott, The Guardian (UK)

"Rich in irony and incident, Patrick Tyler's history of the White House and the Middle East would make instructive reading for the latest occupant of the Oval Office. Tyler is no radical: the United States, he writes, is still 'the indispensable power in the Middle East'; but its mistakes 'have cost countless thousands of lives' and 'sundered landscapes once vibrant with diverse cultures.' His brisk, engaging book is a plea for 'tolerance and accommodation' in American foreign policy. But if the past 50 years are any guide, it is likely to fall on deaf ears. In essence, A World of Trouble consists of eight presidential portraits, showing how Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush grappled with the dilemmas of power, oil and strategy from Suez to Iraq . . . A lucid and even-handed introduction to a deeply contentious subject. Reading it during the Israeli invasion of Gaza, it was hard not to be struck by the parallels between past and present, and not to be depressed by the miserable prospects for change. Whether President Obama will do better than his predecessors remains anyone's guess, but since he seems to share their sense of America's mission to the world, it is difficult to be optimistic."—Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times (UK)

"So many books are now pouring out on the Islamic collision with the West that it takes a very good narrative to become an icon. A World of Trouble by Patrick Tyler can lay claim to this. As a high-ranking journalist, Tyler has been in all the hot spots of the Middle East, but more importantly has been a close observer of the power battles centred on ten American presidents, dating back to Eisenhower. Tyler has a very attractive style of prose which flows with eye-catching immediacy. His description of the CIA's fearful involvement in the 'weapons of mass destruction' debacle launches the book on a wide-ranging tour of conflicts from the Suez crisis to the occupation of Iraq with crucial emphasis on the war of terror. With a biblical sense of both terrain and politics, Tyler exposes the reality of every major event in the region over 60 years with American leadership in each distinct phases battling to tame the forces that fuel the Middle East conflict."—The Oxford Times (UK)

"October 29th, 1956, just days after the Soviet Union invaded Hungary with ground forces, the Israeli army swept in Egyptian territory. This action launched the first stage in an ultimately failed joint Anglo-French effort to regain its colonial possession: the Suez Canal and the $100 million in revenues each year their control over it produced. To achieve this aim, British and French officials clearly used Israel's anxiety about its security and its ambitious expansionist goals in a region with regularly shifting frontiers, alliances and power blocs. In existence as a nation for just eight years, and having been recognized by the two major competing global powers—the US and the USSR—Israel came under attack by its neighbors. In the ensuing conflict, outrages and atrocities were committed on both sides with the intention of demonstrating power and resolve to whip the other into accepting their presence. Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, however, was not satisfied with a stalemate or any efforts by the US or other countries to pursue a peace process. According to Patrick Tyler, in his new book, A World of Trouble, Ben-Gurion sought military supremacy, control of atomic weapons, as well as new strategic alliances that would help defeat Israel's neighbors. Into this complicated situation stepped Egyptian dictator Gamel Abdel Nasser. Nasser had risen to power with the aid of the Egyptian Communists and the far-right Muslim Brotherhood, both of whom he subsequently rounded up and housed in what, to many people fresh from the experience of the Holocaust in Europe, seemed like concentration camps. Nasser then sought to establish himself as the leader of the emergent Arab nationalist movement by challenging Israel's right to exist and by challenging the regional hegemony of the global powers that had helped Israel into existence—Britain, the USSR and the US. Initially courted by the Eisenhower administration, especially after he began killing and imprisoning communists, Nasser sought massive US military and development aid. The Eisenhower administration sent positive signals, but with the added condition that Nasser abandon his independence and become a US satellite in the Cold War. Nasser responded by showing up at the Bandung Conference in 1955 as a participant in the Non-Aligned Movement, shaking hands with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and rubbing shoulders with world leaders who had rejected US advances. Tops blew in Washington. A consensus emerged in the Eisenhower administration that Nasser had to go, but through non-military interventionist means. This decision came hard on the heels of the Eisenhower-ordered CIA operations in Guatemala to unseat democratically-elected President Jacobo Arbenz and and Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh. Still, Nasser survived Washington's wrath, if only because he remained strategically useful to the Eisenhower administration against Soviet influence in the Middle East Tyler's well-researched volume traces the this example of the US government's interventions and machinations in the Middle East from the 1950s through the George W. Bush administration. It draws heavily on de-classified and hard-to-find government documents to give an insider's view of high level diplomatic meetings and communications between US presidents and other top officials as well as top diplomats and leaders of Israel, Egypt, the Soviet Union and other countries. Tyler's work is often revealing, especially about Israel's nuclear ambitions beginning in the 1950s and its secret strategic and tactical goals through the extensive period under study. This must-read book documents the dynamic, often contradictory positions the US government adopted toward Middle East issues. While history not political solutions is the subject of Tyler's work, the book reveals the need for a radical re-orientation of US aims, including a diplomatic surge that includes all of the regional actors as equals, presses for a long-term settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that recognizes Israel's security concerns but also the special rights of the Palestinian people, their need for a recognized state, and for political and economic development on a cooperative and equal basis."—Martha Kramer, Political Affairs Magazine

"[A World of Trouble] covers the actions of 10 U.S. administrations and is not pretty reading. But it is fascinating, for Tyler has access to a plethora of background information, including correspondence and memos and, of course, the memoirs of such participants as Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Carter . . . The book rises above the barren simplicities of the various sides in the perpetual struggle for Middle East peace and is not apt to warm the hearts of wither Israel or the Palestinians . . . The author doesn't do much looking ahead, but when he looks back over half a century of our ‘world of trouble,' he is well worth reading."—Charles Stephen, Lincoln Journal Star

"To most Americans, including seasoned political observers, the machinations of white supremacists and professional antisemites are regarded, if at all, as crude carnival theater. After more than three decades of close observation, Leonard Zeskind, recipient of a 1998 MacArthur Fellowship for his independent scholarship on far-right, racist and neo-Nazi groups, is not so dismissive. More important, his first book, Blood and Politics, analyzes the past 35 years to provide a trenchant and troubling assessment of the future of what Zeskind terms 'the white nationalist movement.' Since the mid-1980s a number of books have detailed homegrown paramilitaries and the bigoted zealots behind them, but Blood and Politics provides an entirely deeper level of analysis. Zeskind is the first to fully integrate a sophisticated understanding of global events—specifically the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union—with an equally forceful insight into the uniquely American dynamics of racial identity, Southern sectionalism and national politics. After the Soviet Union 'cracked apart like a three-minute egg,' and anticommunism became almost instantly irrelevant to American national identity, white nationalists rushed in to fill the vacuum . . . The subtitle of Blood and Politics offers a history of the white nationalist movement 'from the margins to the mainstream,' and the description is certainly apt. In the hands of less-skilled authors, navigating the netherworld of white supremacist groups too often becomes an exercise in cataloging the alphabet soup of one seemingly hapless sect after another. But Zeskind concentrates not only on painting the picture of a movement—which allows the plethora of people and groups he describes to fall into place more readily—but also on highlighting the critical fault line between 'vanguardists,' who advocate violent, revolutionary struggle, and 'mainstreamers,' who favor the ballot box over the bullet. Blood and Politics elucidates this distinction chiefly through the personalities and political histories of two men who contributed perhaps more than anyone else to the development of the contemporary white nationalist movement. William Pierce, a physicist by training, was in the vanguard, while Willis Carto, a gray everyman with a background in sales, pushed toward the mainstream. Both were children of the Depression who came of age politically in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation, and both dedicated the balance of their lives to the cause of white supremacy and the extirpation of anything Jewish, but any similarity ended there . . . The civil rights movement succeeded in abolishing de jure segregation, even if the rate of change fell short of the 'all deliberate speed' mandated by the Brown decision. And the presidential election of Barack Obama certainly marks the success of America as a multiracial democracy, notwithstanding the need for continued progress. What remains an open question, in Zeskind's eyes, is how well the nation will make the transition to become a multiethnic state in which white people are a minority. For those who are committed to making that changeover a successful one, it will be necessary to anticipate and understand the forces that are likely to be arrayed against them. Blood and Politics will be indispensable to that effort."—Daniel Levitas, The Forward

"Having reviewed tens of thousands of newly declassified letters and other documents, Patrick Tyler has produced a portrait of how America has conducted itself over the past 40 years in a region that has become an important centre in the world today. He has analysed 10 US administrations, all of them reacting to events rather than planning them strategically, each of them bubbling with internal disputes and encircled by manipulative opponents: Nasser and Eisenhower, Kissinger and Nixon, Carter and Shamir, Sadat and Dayan, Reagan and Haig, Bush and Saddam, Clinton and Arafat, Sharon and Mubarak, Bush junior and Saddam. All the great rivalries and unlikely collaborations are brought vividly back to life in A World of Trouble. Published soon after Barack Obama took up residency in the White House, in this comprehensive work Tyler delivers a verdict on Bush's Middle East Policy, assessing the legacy of his war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, and the effectiveness of his stand-off with Iran."—Fred Rhodes, Mosaic magazine

"The misperceptions and misdeeds of the United States in the Middle East from the time of Dwight Eisenhower to the closing days of the presidency of George W. Bush frame this big book. Eisenhower gets favorable mention for his actions during the Suez crisis in 1956, but few plaudits are to be found thereafter. The Six-Day War on Lyndon Johnson's watch was 'a failure of American diplomacy.' Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is charged with a pro-Israeli slant during the 1973 October War. Indeed, pro-Israeli policy 'failings' constitute something of a leitmotif throughout the book. As for the Bill Clinton years, the headings of the two relevant chapters tell it all: 'Tilting at Peace, Flailing at Saddam' and 'Flight From Terror, Lost Peace.' George W. Bush's war in Iraq is depicted as neither just nor necessary. Tyler's story, told largely in terms of the personal contacts and confrontations between U.S. and Middle Eastern political figures over more than a half century, is well researched and readable."—L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs

"Having reviewed ten of thousands of newly declassified letter and other documents, Patrick Tyler has produced a portrait of how America has conducted itself over the past 40 years in a region that has become an important centre in the world of today. He has analysed 10 US administrations, all of them reacting to events rather than planning them strategically, each of them bubbling with internal disputes and encircled by manipulative opponents: Nasser and Eisenhower, Kissinger and Nixon, Carter and Shamir, Sadat and Dayan, Reagan and Haig, Bush and Saddam, Clinton and Ararat, Sharon and Mubarak, Bush junior and Saddam. All the great rivalries and unlikely collaborations are brought vividly back to life in A World of Trouble. Published soon after Barack took up residency in the White House, in this comprehensive work Tyler delivers a verdict on Bush's Middle East Policy, assessing the legacy of his war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, and the effectiveness of his stand-off with Iran."—Fred Rhodes, The Middle East

"When you log on to the White House home page these days, it proudly announces that 'Change has come to America.' Indeed, anyone whose heart is not made of New Hampshire granite had to be moved by January's swearing-in of Barack Obama. Even George W. Bush said it would be a 'stirring sight' to see the Obama family move into the White House. One of the key areas where tens of millions of people, both at home and abroad, are longing for change is in foreign policy. This is especially true with regard to the Middle East, where worldwide opinion polls show that with the notable exception of Israel, almost every country regards Bush's tenure as disastrous. But perhaps Obama should take it slow—after all, the Middle East isn't going anywhere. Rather than rush into a new policy, he might give himself a little time to think, and to read journalist Patrick Tyler's illuminating new book about America's miserable record in the region over the past half-century. Tyler makes a convincing argument that one of the overarching problems the United States has had in relation to the Middle East is an almost complete lack of consistency in its policies since World War II. In contrast to its broad and ultimately successful policy of containing the Soviet Union and its allies, America, Tyler shows, has lurched like a drunken sailor when it comes to its Middle East policy . . . In A World of Trouble, Tyler makes a convincing case that this lack of an overall strategy has been bad for both America and the region. Given the sweeping geographic scope of its subject matter, the book is not very detailed on any single period or war, but Tyler, who has reported on the Middle East for The New York Times and The Washington Post, manages to paint a convincing, if bleak, overall picture of America's impact on the region. He spends more than half the book on Israel, and provides only a fairly cursory treatment to important countries such as Syria and Jordan, which gives the book a somewhat distorted focus, but also serves to illustrate the enormous role Israel occupies in the U.S. political arena. Tyler enlivens his book immensely with some very well-written prices of personal reportage from the region, and tells some great White House anecdotes—though presumably not from personal experience—that linger in the mind long after you close the book. There is Johnson during the Six-Day War, a political animal so eager to find out how the 1967 war is going that he sticks his head inside the wire-service teletype machine to see the news as it comes off the printer. A generation later, George H. W. Bush holds his hand in front of him to see if it's shaking just before he goes on air to explain to the American people that he is sending troops to defend Saudi Arabia from Saddam Hussein. A few years later, Bill Clinton is fretting to aides about whether Yasser Arafat plans to kiss him in front of the entire world when the PLO leader and Yitzhak Rabin come to the White House to sign the Oslo Accords. Such scenes serve as potent reminders that despite all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the American presidency, even the most powerful person in the world is just a person—and not necessarily a very sophisticated one. In 1952 Eisenhower apparently told then-foreign minister Moshe Sharett and Israeli ambassador Abba Eban that when he was growing up in Abilene, Kansas, he thought the Jews—or 'Israelites,' as he called them—were mythological creatures like angels or cherubs, and that he had been greatly surprised to discover they existed outside the Bible. Nevertheless, from Eisenhower to Dubya, these men made far-reaching decisions, and one of the shocking things about Tyler's book is how random and poorly thought-out many of these were. Nixon's sudden decision to initiate a massive airlift to resupply Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 may have been wise, but appears to have been made without the realization that such open support of one side would essentially mean the United States had become a player in the conflict. Tyler also gives a good account of the Camp David negotiations that led to Israel's peace treaty with Egypt, and describes how the final late-night session before the agreement was reached would end up haunting Jimmy Carter. The president thought Menachem Begin had pledged to suspend settlement construction in the West Bank indefinitely, whereas Begin afterward said he had agreed only to a fairly insignificant three-month moratorium. Equally stunning is the admission by Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, about why the administration failed to realize just how fragile the Shah's regime really was. 'Our decision-making networks were heavily overloaded,' he said later. That's an amazing, and scary, statement; if the U.S. administration can be so overloaded that it fails to anticipate the collapse of one of its closest Middle Eastern allies, what else can fall though the cracks? A lot, apparently, as Tyler shows again and again . . . Tyler has produced an illuminating and very readable book about how America has bungled its relationship with the Middle East over and over again. It's a measure of how difficult it has been for America to understand the region and take action in it that I found myself nodding in agreement to Saddam Husssein's statement after he was captured: 'You guys just don't understand. This is a rough neighborhood.' Exactly. And if Obama and his team hope to have more success than their predecessors, it's vital that they do come to understand this. The new administration could also do a lot worse than listen to Nadav Safran, who was born in Cairo in 1925, fought in Israel's War of Independence, and died in 2003 after a long career at Harvard. He summed up the sorry Israeli-Palestinian story in one sentence, which Tyler quotes: 'Both the Arabs and Israelis have unassailable moral arguments, and anyone who does not understand how this is true cannot understand the true nature of tragedy.' Nor, one might add, can they help solve the conflict and get the region on a path to a better and less destructive future."—Marcus Rubin, Haaretz

"In taking us inside the White House through decades of tumult in the Middle East, Patrick Tyler brilliantly sheds light on both the history of the presidency and the long, tragic story of the place so many Americans think of as the Holy Land. This is a terrific, important book." —Jon Meacham, Editor of Newsweek and author of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation

"A veteran journalist chronicles 60 years of U.S. fecklessness in the Middle East. The colorful narrative opens in 2004 with CIA Director George Tenet drunk and angry during a post-midnight swim in a Saudi royal family pool, a perfect metaphor for American floundering in the Middle East for the past few decades. Almost nothing that follows dispels this image of the United States, bitter and baffled by the ceaseless problems posed by this region. Tyler (A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China: An Investigatory History, 1999, etc.) uses the frame of the presidency to survey America's involvement in a place that, because of its oil resources, the ideological challenge of Islamic extremism and America's ties to Israel, demands the attention of the nation's 'highest political authority.' Since Eisenhower, the White House has grappled with an unrelenting parade of Middle East conflicts: Gamal Nasser's 1956 seizure of the Suez Canal; the 1967 Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel; the 1973 Yom Kippur War; the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the takeover of Tehran's American embassy; the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1987 Intifada in the Gaza Strip; the eight-year Iran-Iraq war beginning in 1988; the First Gulf War against Saddam Hussein; the second Intifada; and the 2003 still-unresolved American invasion of Iraq. Tyler demonstrates how American presidents' responses to these and countless lesser eruptions have been shaped by Cold War strategies, War on Terror exigencies, shifting alliances among Arab leaders and a variety of other factors that have consistently frustrated American attempts at peacemaking. Although the has a few kind words for Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, nopresident escapes Tyler's criticism for mostly fumbling attempts to deal-or not deal-with the region that continues to pose the greatest threat to world peace. The heroes here (Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin) are few, the successes (Camp David Accords) rare, the villains and rogues many. With his reporter's instinct for telling detail, Tyler offers a history that makes for enlightening, if depressing, reading. A superb, evenhanded account of America's role in a continuing tragedy."—Kirkus Reviews

"In this epic, remarkably readable history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East from Eisenhower to Bush II, Washington Post reporter Tyler uses an up-close, journalistic style to depict the power struggles and compromises that have defined the past half-century. Tyler focuses on key turning points in U.S.-Middle East relations and documents the conversations and real-time decision-making processes of the presidents, cabinet members and other key figures. Readers are treated to an intimate view of Eisenhower's careful, steady diplomacy during the Suez crisis, Kissinger's egocentric and fateful decision to fully arm Israel in the October war of 1973 while Nixon struggled through the Watergate scandal, and the tangled web of communication and intentional deceit during the Reagan administration that led to the Iran-Contra scandal. Tyler makes the issues and relationships clear without resorting to oversimplification or ideological grandstanding, and his journalistic instincts steer him toward direct quotation and telling anecdotes rather than generalization. Readers in the market for an examination of how leadership has embroiled the U.S. in the Middle East are well-advised to consult this riveting text."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Patrick Tyler

  • Patrick Tyler has reported extensively from both the Middle East and Washington for The New York Times and The Washington Post. A Texan, he lives in Washington, D.C.

  • Patrick Tyler