Summary of America’s War for the Greater Middle East

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America’s War for the Greater Middle East book summary

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Background
  • Engaging


It’s tempting to think that America’s misadventures in the Middle East began following the September 11 2001 terror attacks. In fact, Andrew J. Bacevich argues in this bracing takedown of American folly in the Muslim world, the United States’ miscalculations in the region date back to a 1980 flop in Iran and a deadly foray into Lebanon a few years later. In all cases, Bacevich asserts, Americans have misunderstood the complexity of the Middle East and overestimated the appeal of the American dream. Bacevich isn’t a liberal naysayer; he’s a West Point graduate who offers detailed analysis of American military strategy over the past four decades. The poor decision-making about the Middle East transcends party lines, he argues. Bacevich’s harsh analysis, rendered in clear, elegant prose offers vital insights into America’s involement in the Middle East and why the so-called war on terror is unlikely to end anytime soon. 

About the Author

Andrew J. Bacevich graduated from West Point and Princeton and served in the army. He is the author, coauthor or editor of a dozen books, among them American Empire and The New American Militarism.


A Failure in Iran

America’s ill-fated interventions in the Middle East began in an embarrassing fashion. The first salvo was Operation Eagle Claw, a nighttime maneuver in April 1980 that was designed to liberate American hostages from the United States Embassy in Tehran. The Pentagon’s plan called for six Air Force C-130 transport planes to fly into a remote spot in the Iranian desert, where they’d rendezvous with eight heavy-lift helicopters launched from the carrier USS Nimitz. The C-130s ferried fuel and Special Forces troops. They were to board the helicopters, then travel to Tehran to rescue the hostages. But the plan unraveled at the remote meeting point. The aircraft unleashed a dust cloud that hampered visibility and the location was not in fact desolate: US troops encountered both a fuel truck and a bus full of Iranian civilians. What’s more, three of the eight helicopters experienced mechanical difficulties and were forced to turn back.

With only five helicopters operational for a mission that called for six choppers, commanders opted to abort the mission. To sneak back out of Iran, the pilots needed to refuel...

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