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January 2011

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Divide and Perish
divideandparishReviewed by Henry E. Mattox

Curtis F. Jones, Divide and Perish: The Geopolitics of the Middle East, 2nd Edition, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2010, ISBN-1449009034, 542 pp.

This is a second, revised edition of Jones’ comprehensive and thoughtful, if sometimes controversial, work on the Middle East.   The book was first published in 2007. In that regard, one can do worse than to read or reread Norville DeAtkine’s thoughtful earlier review in this journal at: http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2007/0709/book/book_deatkine.html

DeAtkine essentially faults the author for his negativity concerning Arab – mainly Palestinian – policies and actions in the area, while at the same time citing little in the way of positive actions on the part of Israel. It is, in Jones’ view and interpretation, a win-lose, lose-win confrontation, geographically and policy-wise, in the region.

The author does not simply lay out criticism of the actions undertaken over the decades by regional regimes or by foreign interests – the United States, principally.  Jones, a retired Foreign Service specialist in the Middle East and a scholar of the region since returning to residence in the United States, finds fault that can be apportioned to various sides of regional conflicts of interest. The United States figures prominently in Jones’ apportionment of blame for the seemingly constant deadly turmoil in the region. And, while blaming Washington and Tel Aviv for much of the conflict, Jones spares no one involved in the Middle East. It is an area of turmoil that has sufficient blame to go around to all regional actors. In the writer's effort to cite the names of American officials who died at the hands of anti-American organizations, he failed to include Lt. Col. William Buckley, Station Chief in Beirut, who was abducted by Hezbollah in 1984 and "executed" by Islamic Jihad on November 22, 1985. After recovery of his remains, American authorities concluded he had died from illness and torture. 

The Middle East is a constantly troubled part of the globe, one that he describes with authority, having spent much of a lifetime either stationed there or studying the region, or both. It is, then, a troubled part of the globe that in his view merits explicitly the title of his study. The divisions in the region in question have not led to anyone conquering anyone else definitively, clearly not the United States’ involvement militarily in recent years. No, in Jones’ interpretation, the political and military divisions have led far more to death and destruction: no conquests but much collapse of political systems.


authorHenry Mattox was a Foreign Service officer from 1957 to 1980, serving in France, Portugal, Brazil, Nepal, Haiti, England, Egypt, and Washington. After retirement, he entered academe, studying, writing, teaching, and earning a Ph.D. in U.S. diplomatic history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1986. He was editor of American Diplomacy from its founding in 1996 until July 2007 and an Associate Editor until 2010. His latest publication is Present at the Footnote.

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