MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: The United States and Persian Gulf Security: The Foundations of the War on Terror/Turning Point: The Arab World's Marginalization and International Security after 9/11

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The United States and Persian Gulf Security: The Foundations of the War on Terror, by Steven Wright. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 2007. v + 208 pages. Bibl. to p. 231. Index to p. 242. $54.50.

Turning Point: The Arab World's Marginalization and International Security After 9/11, by Dan Tschirgi. Westport, CT and London, UK: Praeger Security International, 2007. vii +177 pages. Notes to p. 203. Further reading to p. 209. Index to p. 226. $44.95.

Reviewed by Christian Koch

With the election campaign in the United States already turning the focus to the next US administration, there is no doubt that the Middle East will be at the center of the debate on the future direction of American foreign policy. Much of that debate will take as its point of departure an evaluation of the policies enacted by the current Bush Administration. In this context, the theme of the two books under review is quite similar, as they look at the wider impact of the war on terror and its implications both for regional security in the Gulf as well as broader international security.

The volume entitled The United States and Persian Gulf Security: The Foundations of the War on Terror by Steven Wright is "an examination of Bill Clinton's and George W. Bush's foreign and strategic policies vis-à-vis Persian Gulf Security in the post-Cold War and War on Terror era" (p. 2). The author argues that while under President Clinton, US Gulf policy lacked a "clear strategic vision" (p. 86), during the administration of George W. Bush "the new intellectual context of the War on Terror subordinated long-standing US geostrategic interests in the Persian Gulf to the maxims of grand strategy in the War on terror." (p. 7). Thus what one sees under the two presidencies is a reversal of priorities with Clinton placing the issue of political Islam within the context of US strategic interests while Bush places the need to combat "radical Islamism over the immediate US interests in the Persian Gulf arena" (p. 82).

Rather than focusing on the Gulf policies of Presidents Clinton and Bush, Turning Point: The Arab World's Marginalization and International Security After 9/11 by Dan Tschirgi seeks to delve a little deeper into the significance of the events of September 11 and to provide an answer to the central questions of "what is the meaning of 9/11, why did it happen, and how can we best seek security in the wake of that event" (p. viii). In this context, the book attempts to "eschew moralizing in favor of an analytical thrust" (p. 162) and tries to put the attacks themselves into perspective by arguing that what happened on 9/11 was "an act of asymmetrical warfare" (p. 70). Tschirgi emphasizes the point that the Middle East should not be seen as "exceptional" when it comes to the threat from fundamentalism but rather that al-Qa'ida and its action should be viewed within the context of marginalized violent internal conflict stemming from the nature of the current international system and its uneven distribution of the benefits of globalization. He thus draws parallels to conflicts such as Mexico's Zapatista Rebellion, Egypt's Gama'a al-Islamiyya insurgency, and the Ogoni uprising in Nigeria. If seen through this lens, he argues: "In fact, 9/11 was a by product of an insidious syndrome of marginalization that directly motivated a relatively small group of activists while simultaneously influencing the attitudes and opinions of a much broader stream of public sentiment in the Arab world" (p. 171).

By trying to establish the rationale behind the response of the Bush Administration to the events of September 11, the two authors argue that US policies grew out of earlier convictions that had been formulated mostly throughout the 1990s and even before that. Both volumes go to great length explaining the background to the Neoconservative movement and how their belief in the supremacy of the American cause led them to make the policy choices they did when it came to the Middle East and specifically Iraq. …