Unipolarity and the Middle East
by Birthe Hansen
New York: St. Martin's, 2001. 245 pp. $59.95.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Non-Americans tend to be more impressed by U.S. power in the post-Cold War era than Americans. The former see unipolarity (a single dominant state) and the latter see incipient chaos. The former treat Washington as the new imperial capital, the latter see it as woefully unprepared or inadequately interested in its responsibilities.
Hansen, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, takes the foreigners' view to its limit by theorizing that the "Middle East was transformed" by the emergence of the United States as the unipolar power, and that the entirety of Middle Eastern politics in the decade 1989-98 can be explained by the attendant shift from bipolarity to unipolarity. In doing so, she sets up a good test for political science: can it account for unforeseen developments that make sense of them and place them in context?
To a degree, Hansen makes good on on her promise to do this: Yemeni unification clearly followed on the weakening of South Yemen that followed on the Soviet demise. The same goes for the western Sahara cease-fire and the coalition that fought Operation Desert Storm. But her other arguments strain credulity: Saddam Husayn invaded Kuwait because of Soviet weakness? The so-called Arab-Israeli peace process (that has by now led the parties to violence) shows U.S. muscle? Then there are the many events Hansen barely mentions, such as the Algerian civil war, the imposition of Islamist orders in Sudan and Afghanistan, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Her analysis recalls those psychics who emphasize their accurate predictions but conveniently forget the wrong ones. This reader reluctantly concludes that political science is not yet ready for prime time, having again failed to live up to its claims to provide a truly helpful set of lenses to observe facts on the ground.
Related Topics: US policy, Views of US | Daniel Pipes | Summer 2001 MEQ
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