Steven SimonNov 11, 2023
The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East
A longtime American foreign policy insider’s penetrating and definitive reckoning with this country’s involvement in the Middle East
The culmination of almost forty years at the highest levels of policymaking and scholarship, Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East (Penguin, 2023) is Steven Simon’s tour de force, offering a comprehensive and deeply informed account of U.S. engagement in the Middle East. Simon begins with the Reagan administration, when American perception of the region shifted from a cluster of faraway and frequently skirmishing nations to a shining, urgent opportunity for America to (in Reagan’s words) “serve the cause of world peace and the future of mankind.”
Reagan fired the starting gun on decades of deepening American involvement, but as the global economy grew, bringing an increasing reliance on oil, U.S. diplomatic and military energies were ever more fatefully absorbed by the Middle East. Grand Delusion explores the motivations, strategies, and shortcomings of each presidential administration from Reagan to today, exposing a web of intertwined events—from the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict amid Israeli domestic politics, Cold War rivalries, and Saudi Arabia’s quest for security, to 9/11 and the war on terror—managed by a Washington policy process frequently ruled by wishful thinking and partisan politics.
Simon’s sharp sense of irony and incisive writing brings complex history to life. He illuminates the motives behind America's commitment to Israel; explodes the popular narrative of Desert Storm as a “good war”; and calls out the devastating consequences of our mistakes, particularly for people of the region trapped by the onslaught of American military action and pitiless economic sanctions.
Grand Delusion reveals that this story, while episodically impressive, has too often been tragic and at times dishonorable. As we enter a new era in foreign policy, this is an essential book, a cautionary history that illuminates America's propensity for self-deception and misadventure at a moment when the nation is redefining its engagement with a world in crisis.
Andrew O. Pace is a historian of moral dilemmas of US foreign relations and an adjunct professor of history at Salt Lake Community College. He is a co-host of the Diplomatic History Channel on the New Books Network and is currently working on a book about the reversal in US foreign policy from victory at all costs in World War II to peace at any price in the Vietnam War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.