Amb. Chas W. Freeman Jr. is one of America's most seasoned and thoughtful diplomatists. In March 2009, he became briefly famous when pro-Israel activists raised a furor about Pres. Obama's decision to invite him to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Seeking to save Obama from embarrassment, Freeman withdrew his name from consideration. Now, with the publication of this book, Freeman has pulled together most of his previous writings about the part of the world that got him into so much trouble in 2009.
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America's Misadventures in the Middle East leads off with Freeman's detailed and previously unpublished reflection on Pres. George H. W. Bush's handling of the Iraq-Kuwait crisis of 1990-91. He was U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time; he was thus uniquely placed to see and understand what Washington and key allies were doing in those fateful months. In this chapter, and the one that follows, he reflects on "the American way of war", and in particular on Washington's failure in recent decades to plan for a stable and satisfactory political end-state for the wars it wages. These chapters act as an instructive jumping-off point for the rest of the book, which focuses on Washington's continued pursuit of "the American way of war" in the Middle East of the 2000's.
Parts II and III of the book contain many examples of a fine strategic mind at work. Freeman somberly reflects on the failures at many levels that pulled Pres. George W. Bush into the disastrous decision to invade Iraq. And he stresses, repeatedly, the deleterious impact that Washington's failure to hold Israel accountable for the violent policies it pursued toward its neighbors throughout the 2000's has had on Americans' interests in the Middle East and much further afield.
In Part IV he assesses the impact that America's policy failings in the Middle East have had on its ability to continue leading the world in the same way it did in the half-century following the end of World War II. "Why not try diplomacy?" is the title of one chapter there. But it could be seen as the leitmotif of the whole of Part IV, or indeed, the whole book.
In Part V, Freeman gives us four deeply informed chapters about Saudi Arabia, placing the Kingdom's often misunderstood situation in its own historical context as well as in the context of its relationship with Western and other world powers.
As Prof. William B. Quandt notes in his Foreword to the book:
- there is much to learn about “old-style” diplomacy here and much to regret that Freeman’s views seem so “radical” from the perspective of today’s politicized discourse. Readers of this volume will learn a great deal and will appreciate the style as well as the content of these essays... We are fortunate to have these records of his thoughts.
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