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I have always liked to examine important subjects that most people thought were obvious and yet had never really been studied systematically. In this case, the topic of my 1981 book published by Syracuse University Press in hardcover and paperback (three printings), was how did the Arab states become involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict?
What resulted is a detailed and highly documented study that reveals some surprising things. One key theme is the difference among the regimes–Egypt and Jordan being moderate; Syria and Iraq militant; Saudi Arabia bloodthirsty in rhetoric but doing relatively little. Another was that the conflict had been avoidable and that a number of Arab leaders had not wanted to go to war in 1948.
The other key turning point was 1939, when the British were ready to sell out the Zionists if the Arabs only gave them some minor concessions. The Palestinian Arab leader, Amin al-Husaini, was central in refusing any deal because he–along with his radical allies–were certain that Nazi Germany would win the coming war and bring them complete victory. Also of special interest is the story, based on interviews and archives, of the early 1950s, showing how U.S. policymakers discovered only gradually that they could not conciliate the new Arab radical nationalists. A good story in its own right, the book provides many parallels to present-day issues.
When I realized that nobody had written a comprehensive history of Jewish assimilation, I knew that I had to try doing it myself. It was a remarkable learning experience as I researched a wide range of cultural and historical issues and discovered lots of people and events of which I’d previously known nothing. The tremendous differences between Europe and America required that they be treated differently. I also tried to make it interesting and entertaining.
It is an amazing story of how Jews dealt with the many alternatives they had in whether or not to assimilate, how to alter or maintain their religious practices, as well as what variety of assimilation they might choose: a total flight from their people; assimilation with the elite or with the “masses” (leftism); Zionism or Bundism or liberalism. Through this process a great deal can be understood not only about Jewish history but also the development of Western civilization, democratic society, and modern intellectual life.
Cauldron of Turmoil was written as a history–that I hoped to present in an exciting narrative way–of the dramatic developments in the Persian Gulf in the 1970s and 1980s and how they made this area the highest priority for U.S. foreign policy. The combination of Iran’s Islamist revolution and the Iran-Iraq War transformed the Gulf region from a relatively quiet backwater into the world’s most tumultuous lands. It gave rise to the modern powerful movement of revolutionary Islamism. And later, it would produce the Kuwait war, American invasion of Iraq, and the September 11 attacks, among other events.
Yet America and Americans were not prepared for this new priority and challenge in a part of the world about which they knew little and understood less. Even today, two decades after this book’s publication by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, those statements still remain largely true. Indeed, the book’s analysis and conclusions still remain accurate for the period covered. I hope you will find Cauldron of Turmoil accurate and even enjoyable as the story of this fascinating region and of the remarkable events that unfolded there.
This was a labor of love and the only book on this site that has not been previously published. For decades, I wanted to research my own ancestry. What is more ironic than a historian who doesn’t know his own history? Starting with a single clue, I was able to reconstruct the entire history of my grandparents’ town.
But this is not just a narrow personal narrative. In the process, I met scores of wonderful and fascinating people; experienced amazing coincidences; heard heartbreaking stories; and travelled to many places, including Dolhinov itself, which is now in Belarus.
My goal with this book, though, is to appeal to everyone to get to know their own ancestors and what I call “pre-history.” Only by knowing what went on before you were born can you understand your own life, fate, and psychology. I really hope you read this book and it motivates you to explore yourself. Today there are amazing resources available that make what was previously impossible into something anyone with enough patience can do.
I want to share with you some of the things that brought about this project and the ways it changed me.
When I was about ten years old or so, a half-century ago, our class was given one of those exercises, typical even in those days, of making a presentation about our genealogical “roots.” It made a deep impression on me and was one of the two things motivating a multi-year effort to find out about my own “pre-history.”
At the time, I only began with two words: Poland and 1908 (the year of my grandparents’ arrival in America. That was it. My parents gave me no names of people or places and I had literally no relatives. But, my parents said, we hadn’t lost anyone in the Holocaust from our family. From what I’ve heard, that isn’t an atypical pattern among American Jews.
A second experience that ultimately led to this effort happened in the Paris flea market in 1963, a trip that was my bar mitzvah present. At one of the stalls, a woman who saw me gasped and started crying. She explained that I looked just like the son she had lost twenty years earlier. She held up an old photograph. She was right.
Being a historian, I decided years later, it was ridiculous for me not to have researched my own history. And given the massive amount of help available on Internet now—especially Jewishgen and Ancestory.com—doing what was unimaginable a short time ago is now achievable.
And so unrolled the story of Dolhinov. I want to stress that this isn’t just a book about the Holocaust—which takes up a relatively small albeit emotionally intense part of the book—but the far longer and more complex history of Jews in eastern Europe. But it is also two other things: an attempt to explain to people while knowing how people and events before they were born formed them, and how a small town interrelated with far grander events and trends in world history.
It is hard to convey the people, stories, and happenings that populate this book. I had the thrill of meeting remarkable people, the unequalled experience of being “reunited” with distant relatives after a century, the insights into my own character and life as being shaped by individuals I never heard of and events I never knew about.
Such a project is also something of an adventure and a detective story, which has taken me to six countries including to Dolhinov itself, where I had the moving experience of cleaning the tombstone of my great-grandfather.
Many of the things I experienced I had already “known” about from books. But such knowledge is shallow compared to learning and seeing on a personal basis. One thing I learned of was the tremendous love and mental involvement of those shtetl Jews with the land of Israel in their art, religion, and education (both religious and later secular).
Another was the complex relationship between the Jews and their neighbors as, on the very same day, some of the latter saved Jewish townspeople and others turned them over to the Nazis, not only due to hatred but to a desire to loot their possessions.
Then, too, was the profoundly important role of the individual in history. My book was only possible because a Soviet commissar, a tremendously decent man who had Jewish friends from before the German invasion, saved hundreds of lives on his own and at tremendous personal risks in his partisan group’; because three Polish policemen let two dozen Jews escape, as their comrades machine-gunned others a few blocks away; and because of the courage of Jews who became partisans or performed selfless deeds.
As I said, though, Jewish history was comprised of far more than the Holocaust. It was amazing to see a town whose Jewish community was almost all involved in some sort of adult education, from discussing psalms to studying Talmud.
And while Dolhinov was never a secular town—the main act of rebellion by the 1930s was some young people who might sneak a cigarette on Shabbat—the creation of a Polish-funded Zionist yet Yiddish-speaking school continued that tradition of exalting study. And it was a place where the community’s basic unity was so tremendous that the local branch of the left-wing Hashomer Ha-Tzair youth movement was completely composed of fully Orthodox Jews.
I’m sorry if brevity here forces me to speak in images that might already be all too familiar to you. The breadth of the book enables the telling of individual stories, which is what this is all about. If I had to condense all this down to a single sentence, it would be what I told the contemporary residents of Dolhinov—with no Jews left after a 400-year-long stay—standing in the old Jewish graveyard. But the point applied to them as well:
If we don’t respect those who came before us, and who made our existence possible, how can we expect anyone to respect us?
My wife Judy and I decided to research the history of anti-Americanism, still another issue that people thought they knew all about but had never really been systematically studied. We began by pointing out the shortcomings in the theory that anti-Americanism arose from U.S. policy or from opposition to American values and lifestyle. It was both of these things and more. We found that anti-Americanism was older than the United States, springing from the European sense that America was a strange, alien place where the old rules did not apply.
While anti-Americanism varied greatly depending on the time and place, some consistent qualities were anti-democratic sentiment and a sense of cultural superiority to the Americans. In addition, there was frequently fear that the United States would be attractive to one’s countrymen and that its ways would infect and alter one’s own society. We examined anti-Americanism over the last two centuries and the different forms it took in European countries, under Communism and Nazism, and in the Middle East and Latin America. As in other books, I sought to make the story entertaining and interesting with a number of stories about specific people and anecdotes. It was published by Oxford University Press in 2004 with a paperback edition in 2006.
This is a study of the rise of Islamism in Egypt, covering both the Muslim Brotherhood and what are now called the Salafist groups that are mostly offshoots of it. It was published by St. Martin’s Press in the United States and MacMillan in Britain in 1991. A second, revised edition was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in 2002 and reprinted in 2008. While covering the entire history of the movement, the book focuses on the rise of revolutionary Islamism in the 1970s, the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat, the abortive 1990s Islamist insurgency in Egypt, and the development of the Egyptian elements of al-Qa’ida.
The book thus supplies the background needed to understand the Brotherhood-engineered 2011 upheaval in Egypt and that group’s takeover of the state in 2012, in addition to its future intentions. It shows how the Brotherhood always remained a radical, anti-American, antisemitic organization intent on imposing a dictatorship as well as the complex relationship of the Brotherhood with the impatient Salafist groups demanding greater ideological purity and a greater speed for the country’s fundamental transformation.
This is the story of Istanbul–but also of Turkey, the Balkans, and the eastern Mediterranean–during World War II, based on extensive interviews and the use of archives, especially those of the OSS, which I was the first to see for this region. The book is written as a cross between a scholarly work and a real-life thriller. The status of Turkey as a neutral country made it a center of espionage, a sort of actual equivalent of the film “Casablanca.”
Aspects of the story include the Allied-Axis struggle to get Turkey on their side; the spy rings set up in the Middle East and the Balkans; the attempts of Jews to escape through Turkey; the Allies’ covert war in Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and other countries; and the first accurate account of how the Germans recruited the British ambassador’s valet as a spy, who could have been their most successful agent of the war if only they had listened to his warnings. Other interesting stories include America’s first faltering attempts to establish its own intelligence agency and the affair of the efforts to bring about Hungary’s secret surrender to join the Allies, both of which ended in disaster.
The book was published by McGraw Hill in 1989 with a paperback from Pharos/MacMillan in 1992. It was then published by Bosphorus University Press in 2002. The Turkish edition was published as Istanbul Entrikalari in 1994 and reprinted in 1996, 1999, and–by Dogan–in 2007.
This book foresaw the “Arab Spring” of 2011. It was obvious years before that the old Arab nationalist dictatorships had failed and were being challenged by two forces: liberal democracy advocates and revolutionary Islamists. While the Long War for Freedom focuses on the moderates, it also, by necessity, presents the worldview and strategy of the Islamists.
In brief, the book’s theme is that while the moderates were right about the direction the Arab world should take, that in no way meant they would win. On the contrary, while sympathetic with this group the book shows the many reasons they were poorly positioned to compete with the Islamists and thus the likelihood that the latter would provide the next wave of regimes in the Middle East.
As far as I know, The Long War for Freedom is the only book that tries to present a comprehensive picture of the liberal reformist tendency, its arguments, and those of its adversaries. I’m particularly pleased with this book and its prophetic aspects and believe that it reads as very up-to-date a number of years after it was published by John Wiley Publishers in 2005.
The idea of this book was to develop a unified field theory about dictatorships. I suggested that there was a big difference between old-style dictators, who focused on power and wealth while minimizing interaction with the people, and modern dictators, who tried to mobilize the people through ideology, institutions, and many other measures. Thus, the book develops a history of dictatorship.
Another theme is that, structurally speaking, dictatorships that seem very different (various ideologies, left-wing as opposed to right-wing) have a huge amount in common. Thus, the basic framework of, say, the Islamist regime in Iran has much in common with fascist and Communist systems. That does not mean they are identical but that there are many parallels.
The book then goes through the dictatorships of the day, especially in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, and analyzes their similarities and differences in detail. This book continues one of my main interests, to analyze governments from the standpoint of how they deal with the ruler’s, regime’s, and state interests rather than to be caught up in the regimes’ claims and superficial aspects.
I think it stands up very well and is useful for thinking about dictatorships that have continued, or developed, since it was published in 1987. Modern Dictators: Third World Coupmakers, Strongmen, and Populist Tyrants was published by McGraw Hill in 1987 with a British edition from W.H. Allen that same year. A paperback version was published in 1988 by New American Library/Meridian and went through two printings.
Watching the Iranian revolution in 1978, it seemed to me vital to explain the history of U.S.-Iran relations and how things had become so much in conflict. This book traces that relationship down through the hostage crisis. Many have recognized it as the critical account on this issue. It was published by Oxford University Press in hardcover in 1980 (three printings) and by Viking/Penguin in paperback in 1981 (five printings). There was also an unauthorized printed edition in Persian published in Tehran as The War for Power in Iran. The latest version of which I’m aware came out in 1992.
The book provided the first archives-based account on the U.S.-backed 1953 coup explaining why it was not merely an act of imperialist aggression. A focus of the book is on why the Iranian revolution took place and the motivations for its anti-American emphasis. One of the book’s predictions was that the conflict between Washington and Tehran would last for a very long time. Though many of the book’s points have since been accepted, they were controversial at the time. This especially applies to the explanation of why the new regime was going to be so radical and destabilizing to the region. Remember that at the time predictions of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s moderation were as common as those of Muslim Brotherhood moderation today.
This book is a history of the State Department but, more broadly, of the American foreign policymaking process. It narrates the development of both the decisionmaking institutions and the content of policy from the founding of the republic through the administration of President Ronald Reagan. Few understand how the American system of international policy is different from that of virtually every other country in the world nor, indeed, how it works at all.
The American system is a pluralistic one in which the media and Congress play an important role; in which alliances are formed and battles waged between agencies and even individuals. There is also the historic American reluctance to become engaged in international affairs set off against the challenges and demands made on the United States increasingly in the twentieth century.
The importance of this approach was brought home to me when I was giving a lecture at an American university and a professor specializing in U.S. foreign policy loudly explained that he had no interest in how policy was actually made and implemented. Since then the theoretical orientation in teaching and studying this subject has been intensified and many of the basic principles of diplomacy have either been abandoned or are no longer understood. The book was published by Oxford University Press in 1985 and a paperback, which went through two printings, in 1987.
I’ll confess that in some ways, The Tragedy of the Middle East is my favorite of everything I’ve written. The title was chosen in great sincerity because the theme here is to explain how the region’s modern history really is a tragedy. Terrible mistakes were made; the wrong roads were chosen. Bloodthirsty ideology took hold; pragmatism was thrown out the window. And yet alongside all of these disasters was a certainty of correctness and a violent rejection of even considering what had gone wrong.
My approach, as always, is to ignore the Western scholarly literature and to examine the facts on the ground. So this book reviews the region’s modern history and considers the alternatives; the reasons for key decisions; and the architecture of war, terrorism, and extremism. At the same time, I think the book provides a useful introduction to the Middle East and perhaps might be the best starting point for looking at the region and also getting into my work.
It was published by Cambridge University Press in 2002 and made into a paperback by them in 2004. There is also a Korean edition, by Hanul Publishing, issued in 2005.
When I wrote The Truth About Syria, published by Palgrave-MacMillan in 2007 with a paperback in 2008, I tried to explain why the country was so pivotal in the Middle East and for U.S. interests. It was a case study of the old radical nationalist dictatorships, how they stayed in power, and why they were failing. The book also made the point, ignored by the Obama administration from the day it took office in 2009 to well after the civil war began there, that such a regime would not be moderated simply because militancy so well served its interest.
I described in great detail how the dictatorship worked there and why it was running into increasing trouble. Pointing out how the rulers were pushing revolutionary Islamism, despite the fact that they were secular and not even Muslims, I suggested that this may well prove to be a suicidal strategy.
Four years later, Syria blew up. The book is still a good guide to the regime there and the causes of the “Arab Spring” and rise of Sunni Arab Islamism to power.
Incidentally, an unauthorized edition was published in Arabic in Beirut and smuggled into Syria. It has been gratifying to hear from Lebanese moderates and Syrian oppositionist liberals how much they liked the book and how accurate they found it to be.