Hitting the Middle East Reset Button with Stephen Kinzer.

To be honest, I can’t remember where I first read about Stephen Kinzer’s newest book Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future but I do know after reading his articles in The New York Times over the years and being pretty satisfied with his 2001 book Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds, I guess it’s only understandable that I eagerly grabbed Kinzer’s book when I spotted it at my local public library. Billed as a call to reassess America’s current Middle East policy, for the most part Kinzer’s book deals mainly with Iran and Turkey, (and to a lesser degree Israel and Saudi Arabia), and specifically those two countries’ respective struggles to build modern and democratic nation-states. While I enjoyed Kinzer’s writing and found the information he served up to be as fascinating as it was entertaining, upon finishing the book and reflecting over what I read, I found the book’s title and subtitle a bit misleading due to the significant amount of history compared to the amount of policy analysis that was presented. However, this did not make Reset a bad book. As a matter of fact, despite its slightly deceptive title I rather enjoyed it.

Kinzer’s in his book Crescent and Star, was the first writer to show me the interesting similarities between Turkey and Iran. Both are non-Arab Muslim nations as well as former empires and share borders with Arab nations and countries of the former Soviet Union. In the first part of the twentieth century both nations were ruled by autocratic rulers who sought to modernize their respective nations while at the same time curtailing the power and influence of their Muslim religious authorities.

But, by the 1930s Turkey and Iran started to move in different directions. Turkey, although ruled on and off by the military, possessed a growing core of democratic institutions which could eventually produce the fairly democratic and sophisticated form of government that we see today, even with Islamic-oriented political parties winning the key elections and leading the country.  Iran on the other hand, despite fervent nationalist sentiment as well as wide-spread receptiveness toward democratic ideals, would be ruled by despotic Shahs until the last one was overthrown in a popular revolution but only to be replaced by an even crueller Islamic theocracy.

To Kinzer, the key to promoting a stable Middle East lies in rethinking our relationship with three of the region’s notable heavyweights Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Much like Baer advocated in his recent book The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, Kinzer also feels it’s in America’s best interest to formally recognize the Iranian government, much like the White House with China did at the end of the 1970s. Regarding Israel and Saudi Arabia, Kinzer feels our current preferential relationship with those two nations is driven by outdated Cold War thinking. Realistically, we should distance ourselves politically, militarily and economically from them so both countries will feel the urgency to solve their own respective problems, (in Israel’s case the Palestinian issue, in Saudi Arabia’s case the utter lack of democracy) and as a result help promote a more stable Middle East.

Could it work ? Who knows. While he might be a bit over-idealistic, Kinzer makes some good points. But, what I liked the most about this book wasn’t Kinzer’s grand plan for peace in the region, but the fascinating history he discussed in Reset. Thanks to Kinzer I learned a number of new things about all four of the above-mentioned countries. Plus, Kinzer must be a good writer because I burned through Reset in what seemed like no time at all. So, keeping all that in mind, I found Reset to be a pretty enjoyable book.

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6 Comments

Filed under Area Studies/International Relations, History, Iran

6 responses to “Hitting the Middle East Reset Button with Stephen Kinzer.

  1. This sounds fascinating, some really interesting points raised. Yet another addition to my ever-growing wishlist!

  2. I never thought about Iran and Turkey as having so many similarities, so interesting. You do such a great job at reviewing these books. I can’t wait to see what you think of Children of Jihad.

    • I never stopped to consider those similarities either until Kinzer pointed them out in Reset as well as his earlier book on Turkey. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed my reviews ! Hopefully I will get my review of Children of Jihad posted as soon as possible. By the way, I enjoyed it a lot and I totally recommend it !

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