Divide and Perish: The Geopolitics of the Middle East

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Divide and Perish: The Geopolitics of the Middle East By Curtis F. Jones, AuthorHouse, 2010, paperback, Second Edition, 542 pp. List: $20.49; AET: $16.

Reviewed by Andrew I. Killgore

I have often been asked to name the one book that an interested newcomer to the Middle East should read to acquire some feel for that fascinating/tortured area of the world. But I have never been able to provide a satisfactory answer-until now. Divide and Perish by intelligence analyst/historian/diplomat Curtis F. Jones comes awfully close to being that book. Because it is really written for those who already have some scholarly knowledge of the area, however, Dividewould be too deeply analytical for a beginner. So it still is not the one book.

After a brilliant 30-year career as a U.S. foreign service officer, author Jones spent another 30 years lecturing and writing for the Department of State and the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (consisting of three great North Carolina universities). At the Department he was for several years the director of Intelligence and Research (INR) for the Near (Middle) East and South Asia. (When former Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith was fabricating "intelligence" to get the United States into war with Iraq, he deliberately avoided going through INR-the secretary of state's intelligence service-because it surely would have found his "intelligence" to be false.)

More than 500 pages long, Divide consists of 16 chapters: The Dictates of Geopolitics; The Middle Eastern Geopolity; Demography; Too Much Oil; Not Enough Water; The Curse of Communalism; Frontiers of Conquest; Who Owns Palestine?; Iraq; The Most Difficult State; The Cycle of Empire; Stages of Government; Islamic Fundamentalism; The Rise of Israeli-American Diarchy; The Wraith of Arab Nationalism; Occupation: American Aims Versus Iraqi Reality; and Through a Glass Darkly: A Policy Prescription. Each is closely knit and sweeping in its conclusions.

Since the focus of his book is on the Middle East, not the science of geopolitics, Jones explains, Chapter One's purpose is "To present a summary plausible enough to serve as a conceptual matrix into which Middle East events can be instructively integrated." This formulation suggests that Divide and Perish is complex and intellectually challenging. It is. But if read carefully and thoughtfully, any reader will come away with a profounder knowledge of the region.

Retired foreign service officer Jones learnedly describes the Middle East in Chapter Two with what he calls a "European misnomer" which has even been adopted by the Arabs ("Al-Sharq al-Ausat" in Arabic). It contains four major languages-Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Kurdish-and is separated by five seas: the Mediterranean, Black, Caspian, Arabian and Red. But because it is impermeable enough to admit only the most keenly motivated (Hannibal crossing the Alpine passes into Italy with an army and elephants), but hard enough to be somewhat spared from intrusion, Jones writes, "it has crystalized into political and cultural frontiers."

In Chapter Eight, "Who Owns Palestine? …