January/February 2012, Page 62
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?," Jones notes that more than 100 governments have recognized the "figurative" state of Palestine although no such state has ever existed. Israel "owns" Palestine now, but there are several restraints on it, overwhelmingly the demographic. Israel's ambition is to restore the ancient Kingdom of David, but to do so it must win regional acceptance of a Jewish state and assure against an Arab majority in that state.
In the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Israel conquered 80 percent of Palestine but did not take the remaining 20 percent because of Britain's defense treaty with Jordan. The United States required Israel to evacuate the Sinai and Gaza Strip after its 1956 Suez invasion. Nor was Israel allowed to keep its hold on the south bank of Lebanon's Litani River.
Jones terms U.S.-Israeli polices toward the Middle East a diarchy. From Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama, American presidents one after another have acquiesced in Israeli policies—with one exception: Dwight Eisenhower, when he insisted that Israel divest itself of the Sinai and the Gaza Strip in 1957.
To achieve its goals of regional acceptance and a Jewish majority, Israel has practiced what the author calls "desperation measures." But its "acceptance" by Egypt and Jordan is closely tied to generous American subsidies to maintain their validity. And all efforts to persuade Palestinians to emigrate have failed—in 2000 there were 5.26 million Jewish residents to 5.02 million non-Jewish in greater Israel, according to Palestinian-American commentator Ali Abunimah.
In Divide's last chapter, Jones presents his profoundly searching and pessimistic conclusion. Describing the attempted "two-state solution" as "threadbare" and America's commitment to Israel's well-being as visceral, Jones considers inconceivable any American solution that goes against Israel's perceived self-interests.
Instead he sees a viable solution in a unified Palestine which will come about only by infinitesimal degrees. By an ironical fate, he observes, this process was begun by Israel's seizure of the occupied territories in 1967. Only as Israel edges toward greater equality for its citizens and greater opportunity for its stateless Arab subjects in the West Bank will America be able to anticipate the ultimate pacification of the Middle East.
Meanwhile, in Jones' view, the U.S. must suffer for its inability to arrange a settlement. He compares this with the despondancy over the loss of faith by the 19th century poet Matthew Arnold in his magnificent poem "Dover Beach": "Ah love, let us be true to one another for the world/which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams.…And we are here as on a darkling plain swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight where ignorant armies clash by night."
Divide and Perish is a monumental book on the Middle East written by a most distinguished scholar and diplomat.
Andrew I. Killgore, a retired foreign service officer and former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, is publisher of the Washington Report.