Introduction: The Perils of Ignoring History
Written during and immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and first published in 2004, the 2005 edition of Rashid Khalidi’s Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East bears a new introduction, taking into account what Khalidi terms twenty months of U.S. mismanaged occupation. Khalidi covers what he deems the true motives of the Bush administration in invading and occupying Iraq and what he terms their perilous disregard for history.
Chapter 1: The Legacy of the Western Encounter with the Middle East
In chapter 1, Khalidi goes over the history of Western intervention in Middle East politics from World War 1, through the period of colonial expansion, and into the present. He adeptly compares and contrasts the history of past Western European intervention with present U.S. intervention. In so doing, he draws parallels between them meant to demonstrate the imperial colonial nature of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. He points out that while most Americans ignore this history, Middle Easterners don’t.
Chapter 2: America, the West, and Democracy in the Middle East
In chapter 2, Khalidi delves deeper into past and present Western intervention in Middle East affairs focusing on past democratic efforts of Middle Eastern nations vis-à-vis Western interference in said process. He attempts to dispel the myth of the supposed incompatibility of Islam with democracy, pointing out that democratic systems were in place long before Bush’s crusade to “democratize” the Middle East. In fact, Khalidi points out that Middle Eastern democracies were toppled by Western intervention.
Chapter 3: The Middle East: Geostrategy and Oil
In chapter 3, Khalidi covers the rise of the strategic importance of Middle East oil beginning with Churchill’s decision to build oil-powered battle ships to replace England’s coal-powered fleet and the resultant matching move on the part of all its competitors, starting with Germany. Khalidi focuses in on Britain’s exploitation of Iranian oil at the expense of Iran and demonstrates that this model later applied to British exploitation of Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil and American exploitation of Saudi oil.
Chapter 4: The Unites States and Palestine
In chapter 4, Khalidi details the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict beginning with the events leading up to the creation of the state of Israel, focusing on the West’s tendency to ignore Palestinian rights in favor of supporting Israel. He points out that U.S. support of Israel has become more and more unconditional over time and that this includes turning a blind eye to Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights and illegal actions that prevent the peaces process from reaching its intended conclusion.
Chapter 5: Raising the Ghosts of Empire
In chapter 5, Khalidi concludes the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq can only be seen as a continuation of a long history of Western imperialism by Middle Easterners regardless of the Bush administration’s true intentions. Middle Easterners, Khalidi points out, know their history. They remember past interventions and see the present one as more of the same. Finally, Khalidi proposes as the only solution to the present U.S. quagmire in Iraq the internationalization of the Iraqi problem due to lack of U.S. credibility.
Although polemic in nature, Khalidi’s book seems well grounded in historical fact. While it is difficult to divine the true intentions of the Bush administration in invading and occupying Iraq, Khalidi certainly makes a strong case for past evidence of present imperial intent. More importantly, Khalidi brings to bear the Middle Eastern point of view on a problem largely caused by ignorance of this point of view and calls on the U.S. to consider this point of view, as well as the history behind it in its policy making.
Khalidi’s book is an important clarion call to American’s who ignore the past at the peril of their future. In order to restore its standing in the world, and more especially in the Middle East, the U.S. needs new leadership to carry it into a future concomitant with the true principles of freedom and democracy upon which it was built and which made it great. This means respecting the right of self-determination of all peoples and nations of the world, including those that may not have U.S interests as their priority.
If the U.S. is to consider itself “the good guy,” it must do what “good guys” do. Furthermore, if the U.S. is to hold other nations of the world to the standard of “good” (vs. evil,) it must set the example by being “good” first and always. American can’t be “the good guy” only when it’s convenient, under the guise that it may at times run contrary to it own interests. It must come to the realization that being “good” is always ultimately in its own best interest and that being an example will bring about positive results.
Khalidi, Rashid. Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East. Boston: Beacon Press, 2005.