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Davidson of Durham University seeks to answer the question: Why has the Arab quest for democracy been bogged down in a murky quagmire while "parts of Europe, Latin America, and even Africa once managed to cut the shackles of authoritarianism." The answers he provides, however, implicating the United States and Britain in all Arab political problems, do not satisfy.

Individually, many of the examples Davidson provides make sense, for example, that the U.S. military establishment became concerned about reductions in spending after the drawdown of U.S. troops from Western Europe. It is difficult, however, to accept that the need "to protect U.S. defence spending" was the primary reason for President George H.W. Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq in 1991. This reductionist analysis suggests sensationalism.

The author dwells at length on the mischievous role of the West in the region's "deep state" counterrevolutions, which aborted the "Arab Spring." There is no denying that the foreign policy of Washington and its Western allies is muddled at best, but to assign to them such overpowering influence relieves Arab dictators from their own responsibility and failure. Similarly, he asserts that Washington had a role in the creation of the Islamic State (ISIS) and criticizes the Obama administration's lack of resolve to destroy it. But he insults the reader's intelligence when he claims that the many accounts of ISIS barbarity "were poorly sourced, and some were definitely made up."

The book would have benefited from more editing and factual review (Egyptian president Anwar Sadat expelled all Soviet advisors in 1972, not 1971) and, considering its voluminous size, should have an index. But most seriously, the book is too thin on analysis. Davidson grounds his book in a neoclassical counterrevolution theory whose building blocks are not particularly appropriate for studying the evolution of Arab societies during the past two centuries. The theoretical inadequacies of Shadow Wars weaken its arguments and impede convincing conclusions.