Scripting Middle East Leaders: The Impact of Leadership Perceptions on US and UK Foreign Policy, edited by Lawrence Freedman and Jeffrey H. Michaels, ISDN 13: 978-1441191656: New York: Bloomsbury, 2013, 194 pp., $87.60 list, $9.99 Kindle.
This collection of essays edited by Lawrence Freedman and Jeffrey H. Michaels is a valuable contribution to the study of Western policy toward key Muslim nations of the Middle East. Written by thirteen scholars and university professors - nine British, three American and one Canadian--each essay focuses on a single Mideast leader. The basic question they all ask--how do American and British leaders see that leader, and how does he see them--is a valid one, because perceptions are very important in diplomacy. This study also fits nicely into the debate over whether it is the individual leader--on both sides - who is decisive in shaping policies or is the leader simply a representative of societal and political realities in his own country that compel him to follow the foreign policies that he does. They come to different conclusions on that main question.
David W. Lesch, for example, in his essay on Syria, argues that Syrian policy under both Hafiz al Assad and under his son Bashaar, should be understood not so much in personal terms but rather as men who presided over a political system that had become stagnant, immune to innovation, dependent on control and repression, focused on competition with Israel and convinced of foreign conspiracies against it. The West misjudged Bashaar when he came to power after his father because they saw him as different, a Western-leaning technocrat seeking modernization. But he was not able or willing to change in the direction the US and UK wanted. In fact, he was prisoner of circumstances as was his father, although Hafiz had helped to create those circumst6ances.
William B. Quandt's essay on Yasir Arafat also comes to the conclusion that "perhaps personalities are less important than policy and politics". Quandt points out that the American public knew very little of the man who dominated Palestinian politics from the time he took over as Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1969 until his death in 2004. But Quandt provides an extremely insightful and fascinating portrait of how American and British officials viewed Arafat. His analysis is based in part on the author's personal involvement as an NSC senior staff member who worked closely with top US...