Shortsighted Statecraft

Daniel C. Kurtzer
Content Type
Journal Article
Foreign Affairs
Issue Number
Publication Date
July/August 2008
Council on Foreign Relations
Stopping three decades of unnecessary bungling.There is a feature of my seminars on U.S. Middle East policy at Princeton that I call "déjà vu all over again" -- with apologies to Yogi Berra. I ask students to assess the bungled efforts and missed opportunities of generations of U.S. diplomats and seek in them lessons for the future. They examine the hubris that drove the U.S. government to engineer the 1953 overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq's democratically elected government in Iran. This traumatic episode was conveniently forgotten by 1979, when National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski encouraged Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to use force against the opposition, ignoring the warnings of U.S. diplomats on the ground in Iran that the shah's reign was doomed. Similarly, the United States forgot the lesson of the limited and United Nations-approved 1991 war in response to Iraq's aggression in Kuwait when it launched an ideologically inspired invasion of Iraq in 2003. Likewise, in 2006, Washington seemed to have forgotten the fiasco that followed Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Rather than learn from the past, Washington backed Israel's ill-advised attempt to deliver a knockout blow against another Lebanese foe, this time Hezbollah. My students and I conclude -- only half-jokingly -- that U.S. policymakers ought to take the class before taking office.
Political Geography
United States, Washington, Middle East, Kuwait