Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
In Shifting Sands Joel Migdal tries to write a comprehensive account of the United States' attempts at forging a stable Middle East at as low cost as possible. The book is more detailed as the account gets closer to the present, but Migdal essentially covers the entire period from Roosevelt/Truman to Obama. The basic claim is that US Middle East policy was based on a model used successfully in Europe and other regions of the world, where the US found local reliable states to forge alliances with and through such cooperation to influence the region as a whole. As Migdal rather convincingly shows this has en large been a failed policy, a castle made in sand. One need only look at the list of states the US has attempted to base this policy on: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Israel. Migdal concludes his account by arguing for the need to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, which stands as a festering sore in the region, suggesting that such a solution should be based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Migdal's long experience as an esteemed analyst of the region enables him to fill the book with personal anecdotes. This is one of the strengths of the book, giving it both added credibility and making it a more enjoyable read. Unfortunately, however, the book is structured in a way in which the account often repeats itself. One gets the feeling that it could have done well with an extra round of editing. All in all, though, Shifting Sands is a good read, neatly summarizing decades of intricate politics.