SHRINKING CAPITAL: THE US IN THE MIDDLE EAST

21 November, 2008

Middle East Report 249 Winter 2008

The Bush administration entered office in 2000 determined to extend the global dominion of the United States into “a new American century.” Yet as President George W. Bush prepared to depart the White House, the National Intelligence Council released a report surmising that Washington “will have less power in a multipolar world than it has enjoyed for many decades.” The winter 2008 issue of Middle East Report, “Shrinking Capital: The US in the Middle East,” examines the Bush-era changes in US regional policy — and the continuities with the past — that have left Washington’s clout diminished.

As Yahya Sadowski writes, the Bush administration’s go-it-alone spirit — and refusal even to speak to regional actors it does not like — wound up sparking a rash of diplomatic initiatives undertaken by US allies without US approval or participation. Political scientist Waleed Hazbun situates the Bush failures, which have caused such great damage to the Middle East, in the historical sweep of US grand strategy and identifies a worrisome lack of fresh thinking on the subject in the tomes of the Democratic foreign policy establishment.

It is important to recall the legacies of the Philippines and Vietnam, as Laleh Khalili writes, when evaluating the newness of Bush-sanctioned torture and, for that matter, the US military’s current focus on counterinsurgency. Jason Brownlee finds more disturbing echoes of Vietnam in the 2008 field manual covering “stability operations” — occupation and militarized nation building by another name. And, as sociologist Louise Cainkar demonstrates, the draconian post-September 11 program of detention and deportation of Arabs and Muslims could not have occurred so easily without the history of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in the US.

Cultural historian Melani McAlister offers a different lesson in her essay on the global engagement of American evangelicals: Their adoption of the language of human rights to highlight persecution of Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East has simultaneously drawn upon Islam-bashing themes and pushed the activism of many evangelicals in a more liberal and less parochial direction.

Also featured: Sandra Beth Doherty looks at why so many women in Lebanon go under the knife; Tamir Sorek reviews Aziza Khazzoom’s Shifting Ethnic Boundaries and Inequality in Israel; and more.

Subscribe to Middle East Report or order individual copies online at www.merip.org.

For further information, contact Chris Toensing at ctoensing@merip.org.

Middle East Report is published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), a progressive, independent organization based in Washington, DC. Since 1971 MERIP has provided critical analysis of the Middle East, focusing on political economy, popular struggles and the implications of US and international policy for the region.

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