Wurmser, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, one of Washington's leading think tanks, has written a highly original and thoughtful analysis, one that goes far beyond the topic delineated in its title. In addition to a close tracking of American policy toward Baghdad, which he rightly finds inconstant and at times shameful, Wurmser also presents a general interpretation of U.S. policy toward the totalitarians who populate the halls of power in the Middle East, showing that it tends to treat them leniently out of a misconceived but seemingly permanent hope that this will improve their behavior and perhaps win benefits for the United States. Along the way, the author dispenses a host of insights, new facts, and theories.
Despite these many virtues, the book has flaws that flow from its passionate purpose. The title and subtitle both have an intemperate quality; not ousting Saddam hardly makes the U.S. government his ally. The second sentence of the book overstates the goals of the United States in the 1990-91 war against Iraq by stating that "The objective was simple: to remove Saddam Hussein as a threat to the region"; in fact, U.S. goals were limited to removing his forces from Kuwait and dismantling his weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi National Congress figures very prominently in Wurmser's analysis but the other Iraqi opposition groups are puzzlingly absent. In calling for an American strategy toward the Middle East that "must confront pan-Arabic nationalism, particularly Ba'thism," the author emphasizes yesterday's main threat; today, it is Islamism, not pan-Arabism, that poses the main threat to American interests. Finally, his proposal that the Hashemites have through the century served as the main stalwart of a decentralized and attractive form of Arab government, one that permits decent lives to its subjects and threatens neither the West nor Israel, is an intriguing one that Wurmser carries off with panache and ingenuity; but it does not convince this reader, who finds the Hashemites less the promoters of an ideology of their own and more survivors who get along by going along.