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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

America and the Muslim Middle East: Memos to a President
Edited by Philip D. Zelikow and Robert B. Zoellick

(Washington DC: The Aspen Institute, 1998) Distributed by Brooking's Institution Press.
194pp. Pb.: $12.95; ISBN 0-89843-239-1.

Since the disintegration of the Former Soviet Union and the official end of the cold war, there has been increased speculation on the rise of Islam as a potential threat to Western countries in particular the United States of America. Subsequent events such as the 1991 Gulf War and the surge in radical Islamic groups in various parts of the Muslim world has added weight to this argument. The Media assisted by a number of academics see this confrontation between Islamic radical groups and the West as an inevitable collision of two juxtaposed ideological systems brought into contact by forces of the globalisation and the new political world order advocated by the USA. It is, therefore, timely that Zelikow and Zoellick edit a book on the relationship between America and the Muslim Middle East where a comprehensive debate on certain key issues in this relationship are undertaken by expert scholars and policy advisors.

The editors adopted a clever way to disseminate information on American-Muslim politics to a broad readership, beyond the usual academic consumers. This is achieved through an innovative and well-structured design where experts are asked to respond, in the form of a memo to the president, to specific questions which are carefully formulated to stimulate information. This is then followed by a summary of the general debate between the invited guest experts and the policy advisers is summarized and presented at the end of the session. In all, there are four sessions in this book structured around the issues of America and the Muslim world; America and Saudi Arabia; America and Iran, and America and Turkey.

The first session on America and the Muslim world focuses on issues related to the position of Islamic states in the new world order, the surge in Islamic extremism and the likely impact this may have on American interests and policies in the Muslim Middle East. Among the reasons that turned Islam into a mobilizing political factor, Oliver Roy in his memorandum (p. 36) cites the worsening economic conditions, the tremendous demographic changes and the inability of secular ideologies to respond to the new economic and political challenges with appropriate policies. This statement sets the scene for the remaining three sessions. In fact, the second session looks at the relationship America has built over the years with Saudi Arabia and the importance of keeping the status quo so long as Saudi Arabia continues to moderate world prices for oil and serve as military ally whenever these interests are threatened. The third session on Iran discusses the socio-political changes in Iran since the 1979 revolution and the need to modify America's unilateral diplomatic and economic sanctions which, after all, were not adhered to by Russia, Japan, China and European countries. The fourth session outlines the importance of Turkey as a strategic NATO ally located between Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. The main argument that emerged from the discussion is that Turkey should be assisted by the USA in ensuring European Union admission and in having easier access to American military assistance and equipment as the military is still at the core of Turkish politics. The question of ethnic conflict in Cyprus between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, as well as the continuing unresolved problem of the separatist Kurdish groups such as the PKK remain among the most challenging aspects of Turkish politics.

Overall, this book is an excellent source of information on the relationship between the Muslim Middle East and America. The editors did the topic justice by creating a context for debate similar to what happens in the real policy-making process. Despite its obvious inclination towards a predominantly American perspective, the book still makes an excellent starting point for students, academics and anyone interested in America's foreign policy in the Muslim Middle East.

Fethi Mansouri,
Deakin University, Australia

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