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"A World of Trouble" is a history of the US involvement in the Middle East, which offers an accessible and insightful, if overlong and somewhat uneven, introduction to the story of the turbulent area in our times.
Given that the book covers some fifty years - from the mid 1950s until the second administration of George W. Bush, it resists easy summery; There's simply too much going on, from the complicated relationship of Jimmy Carter and the Shah of Iran, to the minuet of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. The book also skips forward and backwards, touching some issues only very briefly (the George W. Bush presidency and the transformations it brought are treated particularly lightly).
One theme is the general incompetence of US Presidents. Only Dwight Eisenhower and George H. W. Bush come out of the book with their reputation more or less intact; Jimmy Carter wins praise for his assuring of the Egyptian-Israeli peace, but is severely criticized for his ineffective policy vis a vis Iran. Reagan, Bush Jr., and Clinton receive little but scorn, although Tyler acknowledges that Clinton had great empathy for both Jews and Arabs.
Richard Nixon is the most interesting case. Tyler asserts that Nixon understood the Middle East well enough, but that he let his policies be shaped by Henry Kissinger, who, rather than a cold hearted Realist, is portrayed here as a Sentimental, instinctive pro-Israeli player. I'm not familiar enough too judge, but other accounts of Kissinger's involvement in the Middle East present him in a much more positive light - see particularly Aaron David Miller's The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace.
Another theme running through the book is that US Presidents are usually effective when they pressure Israel to behave itself, and ineffective when they give in to its militaristic impulses. Thus Eisenhower forced Israel to evacuate the territory it gained in the Suez Crisis (what Israeli know as the Sinai War of 1956), and Carter leaned hard on Prime Minister Menahem Begin leading to the signing of the Israeli Egyptian Peace. LBJ, on the other hand, encouraged Israeli aggression by avoiding pressuring Israel to return the territories it has gained during the Six Days War.
I'm not sure Tyler is right; His account seems to underestimate the extent to which US cooperation with Israel led to the promotion of American interests in the Middle East. Standard accounts of the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations hold that Egyptian President Sadat pursued them as a strategic mean of getting close to the United States. According to Michael B. Oren's brilliant Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, the Six Days War broke out because Israel did not receive enough US assurances.
The most problematic aspects of Tyler's narrative come when he discusses the Clinton years, in which the US pursued Israeli-Arab peace aggressively. In a sense, this is the most redundant part of the book - there has been many good books published covering the same ground, often written by participants in the drama or people who have had better access to the principles. I have to confess that in discussing the Peace process, I found Tyler's mostly even handed approach to the conflicts replaced by one more skewed towards the Palestinian narrative.
Thus Tyler shows great sympathy to the Palestinian perspective that little changed after the Oslo accords. That was, to an extent, correct: Most of the Palestinian territory was still ruled by Israel. But from the Israeli perspective, the concessions it has made, while minor, actually made things worse - it led to far worse violence against Israel than ever before. While Tyler acknowledges that Arafat smuggled weapons to the Palestinian territories - allegedly for Palestinian self defense - he ignores the widely held view that Arafat did not reject terrorism, but applied it opportunistically, leashing and unleashing Hamas terrorism as it suited his purposes.
Perhaps the worse offense is Tyler unequivocal statement that the second (Al Aqsa) Intifada was not initiated by the Palestinian leadership. Tyler does note cite any sources in reference to this statement, which to the best of my knowledge is not true. US negotiator Dennis Ross, at least, was agnostic about the possibility (see The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace), and many Israelis and pro-Israeli commentators present considerable (although not necessarily conclusive) evidence to the contrary (See Alan Dershowitz' The Case for Israel).
I think Tyler is overly critical of Clinton's role in the Mid East process and not critical enough of the role played by Israeli Premier Ehud Barak and Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat. In Barak, Clinton found an Israeli leader willing to go far beyond what any other Israeli leader, including Rabin (whom Tyler lionizes, downplaying the fact that Rabin's outlook was both inconsistent and relatively conservative). It would have required inhuman caution to put the break on Barak's admittedly wild schemes. Barak wanted to press for a final agreement with both the Palestinians and the Syrians - how could Clinton say no? It was Barak who placed Arafat before a do or die decision, and the responsibility of both of them that the deal did not come through.
Readers who expect significant insight into the actions of the second Bush would be wildly disappointed; Tyler breezes through his presidency, in a narrative that is critical but not particularly insightful.
Patrick Tyler's book is a good introduction to Middle Eastern politics and America's role in them. Tyler usually manages to combine narrative with (sometimes questionable) analysis in an attractive way. The earlier chapters are particularly good, and the chapter about the Suez crisis stands out in its excellence. Tyler's prose is very readable, although his habit of jumping in the middle of the story and than going back to explain gets old after awhile. All in all, I recommend "A World of Troubles" as one of the better books on the Mid East out there.