Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review: "Reset"

Stephen Kinzer's Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future (Times Books, 2010) is an important, and timely book that I hope those responsible for American foreign policy will read carefully. Offering a lucid examination of American diplomatic relations with Turkey and Iran in the 20th and early 21st centuries, Kinzer argues that by engaging meaningfully with these two nations (and by reexamining our stale relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel), we might have a better chance of attaining the goal of a peaceful Middle East.

Iran and Turkey, Kinzer points out, have deep traditions of democratic engagement, making them and their people logical partners for America in the post-Cold War environment of today. He points out the number of missed opportunities we had in the early years after 9/11 to re-engage with Iran, including a remarkable effort in 2003 which was met with a severe brush-off by the Bush Administration. Kinzer characterizes the US-Iranian relationship this way: "Whenever one has seemed ready to compromise, the other was in too militant a mood to compromise" (p. 127).

By reorienting our relationships with our major allies in the Middle East and pushing strongly for (perhaps even imposing) a settlement on Israel and Palestine, and by working toward coming to terms with Iran (Kinzer suggests using Nixon's China strategy as an example) and building on our good relations with Turkey, America can become an ever stronger force for good in the region.

While Kinzer's book is sometimes repetitive and perhaps a little bit more hopeful than current diplomatic events warrant (it's hard to see a strong engagement with Iran under its present leadership), it's certainly one that should be taken seriously.