Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Middle East

The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Middle East, by Martin Sieff

I have some serious mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, it is clear that this author believes himself to be a very intelligent person (and I say that without having read any of his other books where he brags about being a master of cycles of change) who has a lot of insight to give, but on the other hand, he is not quite as thoughtful or as worth agreeing with as he thinks himself to be.  It is very clear that the author has a very cynical, even deliberately Machiavellian viewpoint [1] but it is also clear that this is not a mindset I share or appreciate.  At best, the shrewd and worldly wise advice of the author is something that one should engage in without having any illusions as to the trustworthiness of the person giving the advice, but at worst, the author has a moral blindness that leads him to insult anyone whose behavior in the Middle East is motivated by any kind of idealistic concerns, whether on the right or the left.  And that blind hostility to morality and idealism is not something I can endorse either.

This book of about 200 pages is divided into ten chapters.  The author begins with a plea to bring back the Ottoman Empire to keep the Middle East as a backwater under harsh military rule that keeps its people from fighting each other (1).  After that, the author rather sensibly points out that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the fault of Israel and that it is based on anti-Semitic Muslim propaganda going back to the pre-Independence period (2).  After that the author gives some depressing history about Iraq and its history of failure (3) and some unpleasant thoughts about radical Islam (4).  After the author has some critical comments to make about Iran (5), gives a fairly lengthy discussion of the Arab-Israeli wars from 1947-1973 (6), and then praises the Saudis as part of the solution to the Middle East rather than part of the problem (7).  After this the author discusses wars and peace in the Middle East since 1975 or so (8), the history of September 11 and failures on the part of the Clinton and Bush presidencies (9) and what works and what doesn’t work with regards to peace in the Middle East (10), closing with the same sort of suitably cynical advice that he began with.

Again, this book is to be noted mainly for its extreme hostility towards Western idealism and its extreme cynicism.  The book could not have been more cynical if it had been written by Kissinger or Machiavelli themselves, and in fact, much of the commentary reads like Machiavelli’s own diplomatic reports on the Holy Roman Emperors of his day that he interacted with as a Florentine diplomat of the early 1500’s.  This is not to say that the advice is bad; it would certainly be wise for the United States to encourage Saudi Arabia to be a counterweight to Iran and the idea of spreading democracy to the Middle East at this time is certainly unwise in light of the general lack of political maturity of the region.  To say that much of the advice of this book is either blindingly obvious (for example, the author’s insistence that other nations, including Israel, will act according to their understanding of their best interests and not our own) or cynical is not to say that it does not deserve to be taken seriously, only that it does not lead the reader to trust the writer even as the advice is taken into account.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/09/book-review-thoughts-on-machiavelli/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/07/26/machiavellis-revenge/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/08/13/so-that-we-may-better-understand-each-other/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/09/book-review-the-political-philosophy-of-hobbes/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Middle East and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Middle East

    • Apparently I read a lot of books that people think one shouldn’t read. I don’t know whether that’s a goo thing or a bad thing, though. I have written some reviews on books related to Armstrongism, including a collection of his early writings in the public domain.

  1. Pingback: Things Remembered This September 11 | Edge Induced Cohesion

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