Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East by Steven Simon
A longtime American foreign policy insider’s penetrating and definitive reckoning with this country’s involvement in the Middle East—and its bitter end
The culmination of almost forty years at the highest levels of policymaking and scholarship, Grand Delusion is Steven Simon’s tour de force, offering a comprehensive and deeply informed account of U.S. engagement in the Middle East. Simon begins with the Reagan administration, when American perception of the Middle East shifted from a cluster of faraway and frequently skirmishing nations to a shining, urgent opportunity for America to (in Reagan’s words) “serve the cause of world peace and the future of mankind.”
Reagan fired the starting gun on decades of deepening American involvement, but as the global economy grew, bringing an increasing reliance on oil, U.S. diplomatic and military energies were ever more fatefully absorbed by the Middle East until the Obama administration and its successors finally sought to disentangle America from the region. Grand Delusion explores the motivations, strategies, and shortcomings of each presidential administration from Reagan to today, exposing a web of intertwined events—from Lebanese civil conflict to shifting Iranian domestic politics, Cold War rivalries, and Saudi Arabia’s quest for security to 9/11 and the war on terror—managed by a Washington policy process frequently ruled by wishful thinking and partisan politics.
Simon’s sharp sense of irony and incisive writing bring a complex history to life. He questions the motives behind America’s commitment to Israel; explodes the popular narrative of Desert Storm as a “good war”; and calls out the devastating consequences of our mistakes, particularly for people of the region trapped by the onslaught of American military action and pitiless economic sanctions.
Grand Delusion reveals that this story, while episodically impressive, was too often tragic and at times dishonorable. As we enter a new era in foreign policy, this is an essential book, a cautionary history that illuminates American’s propensity for self-deception and misadventure at a moment when the nation is redefining its engagement with a world in crisis.