U.S. Cold War Focus on Stability in the Middle East Provides Lessons for Today, Say Ray Takeyh and Steven Simon in New Book

“The underreported story of the Cold War is that the United States succeeded in achieving many of its objectives in the Middle East,” argue Ray Takeyh, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Steven Simon, visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. Cutting against conventional wisdom, the authors shed new light on the makings of the modern Middle East and draw lessons for U.S. strategy today.

May 13, 2016

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“The underreported story of the Cold War is that the United States succeeded in achieving many of its objectives in the Middle East,” argue Ray Takeyh, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Steven Simon, visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. Cutting against conventional wisdom, the authors shed new light on the makings of the modern Middle East and draw lessons for U.S. strategy today.

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In their new book, The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East, the authors examine how Washington handled ten crises between 1946 and 1991, any of which could have provoked a wider conflict, threatened U.S. interests and allies, or brought the superpowers into direct confrontation. Using adroit diplomacy and hardheaded pragmatism, Washington prevented Soviet infiltration of the region and shrewdly navigated the rise of Arab nationalism, the Arab-Israeli wars, and the Iranian revolution.

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“As it entered the region, the United States’ principal objective was to ensure stability,” stress Takeyh and Simon. “A stable order in the Middle East could resist Soviet pressure and maintain a free flow of oil. And politicians tied to the West were best positioned and more likely to make peace with Israel.”

The Arab Spring, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the Syrian civil war—among other contemporary conflicts—have deep roots in the Middle East’s postwar emergence from colonialism. The authors conclude, “Amid the anarchic conditions of the twenty-first century, characterized by a new normal of military intervention, regime change, and vast social engineering projects, there is an urgent need to look back at a period when the United States got it right, recognizing that the domestic and international order in which Washington succeeded is inexorably receding.” 

Read more about the book at www.cfr.org/pragmaticsuperpower.

To interview Ray Takeyh, please contact Global Communications and Media Relations at communications@cfr.org or 212.434.9888. 

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