David Rohde, Beyond War; Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East (New York: Viking, 2013), 221pp.
David Rohde won two Pulitzer Prizes during his ten years of reporting from the Middle East, but he hasn't been back there since 2009. That's because he was kidnapped by the Taliban along with two Afghan colleagues in 2008 and held captive for seven months — a story he tells with his wife in the book A Rope and A Prayer (2010). He's an expert on the region, but even so, it's a rough neighborhood with no easy answers.
In the first half of his book, Rohde covers familiar but troubling territory — America's debacles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Our problems in these places go "far beyond" the liberal blame of the Bush administration. A revealing chapter on Richard Holbrooke, one of our country's best envoys to global hot spots, shows how complicated these places are. And Obama? Between 2009 and 2012 he ordered at least 290 drone strikes, six times as many as the 44 that Bush ordered. Drones kill innocent civilians, violate a nation's sovereignty, and, in effect, conduct an undeclared war. The wholesale use of contractors is also a glaring problem in Rohde's view.
Countries in the Middle East have become deeply suspicious of American intentions. Our military answer for every problem hasn't worked. In the last half of his book, Rohde turns to Turkey, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt to commend a "third way" between American militarism and Islamic militants. What most people in the Middle East want, he says, is a way forward that is "both Muslim and modern." They want our technology, trade, education, and investment. Identifying and supporting moderate Arabs is our "most potent weapon," not more military might.
Of course, a "core problem" is Washington itself and the way it does business; we'll have to reform ourselves before we can hope for reform overseas. The Middle East is a volatile region that's undergoing radical changes. The cover of Rohde's book pictures a man in traditional garb on a camel, talking on his cell phone. Even a current book like this can't keep pace with events like Morsi's ouster in Egypt and Assad's gassing of his own citizens. But this much seems clear — the old military ways aren't working. Rohde's proposed "third way" offers better alternatives.