Steven Simon on American Foreign Policy in the Middle East including Iran and the Wars in Iraq

Steven Simon

Steven served on the National Security Council staff from 1994 to 1999 and again fro 2011 to 2012. Earlier he served in the State Department for fifteen years. He is currently a Robert E. Wilhelm Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies and his most recent book is Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East.

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The Iraqis suffered so heavily and not just because of the 2003 war. The first war in 1991 inflicted terrible damage on Iraq and then the next 10 years of sanctions immiserated the populace and inflicted an especially punishing blow on Iraqi women and children.

Steven Simon

Key Highlights

  • Introduction – 0:43
  • Iran – 4:41
  • JCPOA – 22:58
  • The Iraq Wars – 27:19
  • Saudi Arabia – 32:57

Podcast Introduction

Foreign relations is possibly the most difficult arena for any democracy. The United States has the added complication of its enormous power. Inevitably, it carries great responsibility to remain involved and to show restraint. 

America’s involvement in the Middle East is a case in point. It shouldered the responsibility to protect Israel in its earliest years. But it failed to demonstrate restraint in its most recent War in Iraq. 

Steven Simon has spent a lifetime either working on America’s policy in the Middle East or thinking about its implications. He served on the National Security Council staff from 1994 to 1999 and again fro 2011 to 2012. Earlier he served in the State Department for fifteen years. He is currently a Robert E. Wilhelm Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies. His most recent book is Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East. 

Our conversation doesn’t come anywhere close to covering the entirety of American foreign policy in the Middle East. But we do explore our relationship with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and our involvement in Iraq. 

If you enjoy this episode, please consider becoming a premium subscriber on Apple Podcasts or on Patreon. You’ll get access to additional bonus episodes. You can find links in the show notes or you can always email me at But for now… This is my conversation with Steven Simon…


Steven Simon, welcome to the Democracy Paradox.

Steven Simon

Thank you for your invitation. I’m glad to be here.


Well, Steven, I really loved your book Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East. It was a very wide, encompassing look at our foreign policy dating all the way back to the Carter administration and even before that in the preface. In the book, you have this interesting quote that gets very personal. You write, “This is not the book I set out to write and it reflects a skepticism that surprised even me.” When did you realize your views about the Middle East and our foreign policy there had changed?

Steven Simon

I think the realization hit me in the process of writing the book. I had been a proponent of most of the policies that I criticize very heavily in the book and an admirer, in fact, of many of the individuals whose performances as policymakers or advisors I criticize. I’m not really sure to what I should attribute this change. I mean, in part it was thinking about things that I hadn’t thought about critically in a long time. It had to do with accessing documents from past epics in foreign policymaking regarding the Middle East that if I’d ever seen, I hadn’t seen them in a long time. I was struck by the documentation of the events that I discussed.

But I think lastly, I hesitate to say this, but it’s just age. The process of aging, I think, changed my perspective on things and to some extent I suppose it amounts to a caricature of the retired policy official who looks back on his past and begins to question everything. But my review of the record really tends to support this skepticism that began to seep in and ultimately really inform my recounting of this long period in US involvement in the Middle East.


So, the book is very expansive. It touches on a lot of different countries. It touches on a very long period of history. I mean, it goes from the Carter administration all the way through the Biden administration or the first year or so of the Biden administration. Because it starts with the Carter administration, it’s difficult not to begin with Iran because it plays such a pivotal role throughout the entire American foreign policy in the Middle East.

But what I found interesting was in your account of Iran, we didn’t demonize them as much as I thought we did immediately after the hostage crisis. I mean, maybe I’m saying that wrong, because after the hostage crisis we did. But there was a period where we thought we could see them as a potential ally. Could you talk a little bit about how our views on Iran have evolved, particularly in those first few years during like the Reagan administration and the Bush administration?

Steven Simon

Yeah, sure. You know, attitudes towards Iran were fascinating in that period and it’s gratifying that you picked up on that. You know, the Carter administration believed that they could salvage something from the wreckage of the US-Iranian relationship as a consequence of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. It wasn’t really until the Iranian revolutionaries had seized the embassy and taken US diplomats and others as hostage that the Carter administration cut off the flow of sensitive US intelligence to the Iranian government. I mean, there was really a sense that this is a really big change, but the US and Iran have shared interests and we’re going to try and make this work.

Well, of course, it didn’t in fact work and the manipulation of the crisis by the Iranian leadership in a way that led to the taking of the hostages was intended to jam any efforts by the United States to strike a deal or some kind of continuing favorable relationship with the interim government that followed the departure of the Shah. Now after that, the Carter administration became much tougher minded than most people recall. They thought seriously in terms of staging some kind of counter coup that would sideline the revolutionaries in favor of a more moderate successor government to the Shah that never emerged.

What’s really interesting about the period immediately after Carter, or even during his last year in office, was the role of the Reagan campaign. Of course, this has been in the news just over the past couple of days. A former US diplomat has come out and essentially confirmed stories that had been circulating for a long time and assembled into a coherent narrative by a professor at Columbia University named Gary Sick. The short story was that the Reagan campaign in 1980 was very concerned that Carter would win reelection and they looked for any way possible to put a stick in the spokes of the Carter campaign for reelection.

One thing they feared especially was that Carter would either succeed in striking a deal with the Iranians or stage a military operation that one way or another would lead to freedom for the hostages and their return to the United States. If either one of those things worked out, the Reagan campaign anticipated that Reagan would lose. But Reagan, according to Gary Sick, and that I corroborated in writing the book, carved out a back channel to Iran. The player here on behalf of the Reagan campaign was the man who would become the head of the CIA under Reagan, a legendary operator named Bill Casey. So, these guys worked out a deal with Iran such that under the terms of the deal, Iran would not return the hostages to the United States until Reagan was in office.

Because without the hostages coming home before the election, Carter’s chances were going to be pretty poor and Reagan’s chances would be correspondingly greater in return for Iranian cooperation. In this conspiracy, which is what it was, the Reagan administration said that it would continue to provide military support for the Islamic regime in Tehran. The Iranians were locked in a desperate war with Iraq at that point and needed all the military support they could get. So, from an Iranian perspective, this was a pretty good deal. It got the hostages off the table and at the same time locked in a relationship with this new administration that would continue to provide American largess to the Iranian regime despite the overall hostility of the regime to the United States.


Does this link back to the Iran-Contra scandal? Because I know that during the Reagan administration, it comes out that we are continuing to sell weapons to Iran to be able to finance the Contras in Nicaragua.

Steven Simon

Yeah, so that’s a very shrewd connection that you’ve made. When you look at the deal that the Reagan campaign struck before he became president, the way in which he followed through on the US terms to the deal afterwards, and then the Iran-Contra episode, there’s a thread that runs through all these episodes. The thread is the Reagan… I wouldn’t even say the Reagan administration’s approach, but the White House approach to Iran was always that Iran was the real prize in the Middle East. In the book I discuss a particularly sensitive memo that was drafted for the CIA by their National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, Graham Fuller.

It was in 1985 and there he makes the case for Iran as being the partner par excellence for the United States in the Middle East. It was much more important than Iraq, which the United States was supporting at the time, more important than Saudi Arabia. Iran was the prize because Iran had the demographics. It had the culture and it had the scientific acumen. It had a lot of virtues that made it the more important country in the view of these analysts for the United States going forward. We all remember Reagan as being really tough-minded and sort of against America’s enemies including Iran. But actually, he took huge risks to support Iran and the Iran-Contra scandal that you referred to sort of capped that litany of risks that he took to try to refashion the US-Iran relationship.

I’ll just add to that by way of nuance that Reagan’s approach to the Soviet Union was very similar. Reagan looked at the Soviet Union and he said this is a failing regime and it behooves the United States to establish a working relationship with this regime because ultimately it was going to fail and the United States should, at that point, have good enough relations with whatever the successor government was to get overall US-Russian relations on really sound footing. Also, as the existing regime, the Soviet regime, faded, this approach reduced the risk of conflict with this fading regime because it’s a very, very dangerous time in international relations when you have a regime that’s fading and very concerned about its security.

So, this was a shrewd policy and it resulted in this close relationship that Reagan formed with Gorbachev and ushered in a peaceful end in the Cold War. Well, Reagan looked at Iran in the same way. He saw the Islamic regime as one that didn’t really have legs. It wouldn’t last and as in the case of the Soviet Union, it would make a lot of sense for the United States to have a relationship with this regime so that as it faded, there would be no conflict. The US could restore the kind of relationship it had with Iran under the Shah.


When did the relationship really go south then? Because, publicly, Reagan was very hard on Iran and every president since Reagan has been publicly hard on Iran. But as you just mentioned privately there were overtures. There were efforts to be able to create dialogue. There was a sense that maybe we could work with this regime or set us up to work with the regime that comes after the Islamic Republic. When did we just decide that there was no opportunity for reconciliation?

Steven Simon

So, that’s an intriguing question. When did the balance shift? I’m tempted to say that it was during the Clinton administration where there was a disastrous collision of misperceptions between the United States and Iran and the emergence of domestic politics as a factor in both countries in shaping their policies towards one another. So why? Well, the Iranians were looking to restore some sort of relationship with the United States and the power player in Iran at that time was a guy named Rafsanjani who has since passed away. He was a stalwart of the regime and a stalwart of the revolution and all that. But he was also a keenly pragmatic player who thought that Iran’s interests would be best served by some sort of accommodation with the United States.

At that time, there were economic interests at stake, particularly the possibility of large-scale US investment in the energy sector through Conoco and other commercial deals that were not negligible. They would’ve been important for Iran at that time. So, the Iranians were incentivized and they sought to follow through via Rafsanjani who had his foot in the pragmatic camp and in the Revolutionary camp. So, he had a lot of credibility. At the same time, however, Iran was plotting to attack Jewish targets, not just in Israel, but in particular in South America. So, in really quick succession, the Iranians attacked two Jewish targets in Argentina and they killed a lot of people. These were horrific terrorist attacks and one gets the impression reading the documents of this period that Rafsanjani just didn’t get it,

In other words, his attitude vis-a-vis the United States was ‘So we killed a bunch of Jews in South America. You know, that was important to us. What do you care? Let’s do business.’ Well, this was not an approach that the United States could subscribe to. First, the United States doesn’t like terrorism by and large. Secondly, the United States is quite sensitive to acts of violence directed against Jews. This goes back to the Holocaust and the post-war response to the Holocaust in American politics and it extended to retail politicking in the American system where you have a lot of Jewish Americans who are quite active politically in key jurisdictions and they’re going to look to their elected government to oppose this sort of violence against Jews.

So, you had this bizarre disconnect between Iran, which thinks that they can enjoy good economic relations with the United States, while massacring Jews who posed no threat to the Iranian regime the state of Iran, what have you. These were just ordinary civilians and on a different continent. They thought they could eat their cake and have it too. But that wasn’t going to work within the US system. So, this excess on the part of Iran really jammed the Clinton administration’s ability to do anything with them. So, this in turn, led Congress to get involved in ways that would make a reconstitution of relations with Iran extremely difficult to carry out. So, the Clinton administration had no choice really, but to go along with these congressional actions.

Part of that reaction was to impose very heavy sanctions, economic sanctions, on Iran and extra-territorial them. Which means that other countries that did things that would violate US sanctions on Iran would also be sanctioned. The United States sent delegations around the world at that point, and I know because I was involved, where we shared with foreign governments very good, but sensitive intelligence information that showed that Iranian terrorist attacks were being carried out, not by a rogue faction within the Iranian regime, but were signed off at the very highest level.

Well, the Iranians are looking at all this and feeling the impact of sanctions and they plot to hit the United States back which they do in 1996 in Saudi Arabia. They attack a US Air Force installation in Saudi Arabia. They kill a number of Americans and that was, as you can imagine, a low point. Now, the Clinton administration thought that there might be a way to recover the situation. Because within a year of that bombing in Saudi Arabia, the Iranians elected a new president. A guy named Khatami who made some very promising gestures to the United States and Saudi Arabia and other countries which held out some prospect for a recasting of US-Iranian relations.

But at the end of the day, it didn’t really pan out because the sanctions against Iran had been passed by Congress. And Congress was not impressed by the conciliatory gestures made by this new Iranian president. So, there wasn’t really much that the Clinton administration could do as just as an executive matter. Congress really held the whip hand. So, I think at that point things were destined to continue on a downward trajectory. There was, I should say, one episode that took place in Afghanistan. This was during the second Bush administration. The Iranians offered to be helpful in the US effort to control the situation in Afghanistan after the invasion of Afghanistan and the winter or late fall of 2001.

If you talk to American diplomats who were involved at that time, they were very impressed by the pragmatic approach of their Iranian counterparts and the clear desire of Iran to be helpful in managing what was a very chaotic situation in Afghanistan at that time. But perhaps in another one of these turning points, the Iranians once again, stepped on their shoelaces because Iran had put under house arrest Al-Qaeda people who fled from Afghanistan into Iran. During this period there was an Al-Qaeda attack within Saudi Arabia that was destructive. The United States picked up through a communications intercept, what was in effect a message of congratulations from one of these Al-Qaeda who was in house arrest in Iran, sent to the attackers in Saudi Arabia.

The George W. Bush administration went bananas when they saw this and they interpreted it as evidence of Iranian collusion with these Al-Qaeda people. That led to the Axis of Evil speech and all that. So, maybe that was another turning point, but I think the narrative is every time it looked as though there might be some basis for more amicable relations, even in a compartmented way where the two countries sort of agree to disagree on some things, but they cooperate in other things, every time something like that came up, there was a countervailing event that just jammed it and both countries were back to where they started.

That’s been the pattern to this day, most recently, when the Obama administration negotiates with Iran a nuclear agreement that looks pretty good. The Iranians abide by it. They comply with all the requirements and then a new president comes in and he just tears it up.


Let me ask you about the JCPOA. You refer to it as remarkable achievement. Why do you see the JCPOA as such a remarkable achievement? In fact, you even refer to it as one of the high marks of diplomacy in the Middle East during this period.

Steven Simon

You know, for the United States historically arms control and non-proliferation have been the lodestars of diplomacy. Why? Well, because if you’re a great power with the enormous strength of the United States and the enormous reach of the United States, there’s really no way for any other country to hurt you except through the use of nuclear weapons. That’s just a fact of life. So, nuclear proliferation has always been a key concern. One that trumped other concerns on the part of the United States.

So, for the US when it looks like Iran is edging towards a nuclear weapon and the US and Iran have hostile relations and Iran has hostile relations with a key US client in the form of Israel, the United States is going to get involved. They’re going to say, ‘Well, let’s try and hammer something out that will nip this nuclear program in the bud.’ There were basically two approaches to that. One would be to try and negotiate some settlement with the Iranians that would put an end, at least for a long period, to their nuclear program or go to war against Iran and try to destroy their nuclear program.

From the Obama administration’s perspective, the diplomatic route was much better and much better really for two reasons. One is that it’s easy to get into a war, it’s a lot harder to get out of one. So that approach had some defects that were obvious from the get-go. But the other problem was that the intelligence community judged that if the United States hit Iran’s nuclear facilities that Iran could rebuild them within a year or two and that would necessitate another round of strikes and these might even be more challenging because the Iranians would conclude that if they were going to reconstitute their program, they’d have to do it secretly and underground, which would make it much harder to detect and to attack.

On the other hand, if there were a diplomatic agreement that Iran complied with that said, as the JCPOA did, no nuclear weapons type work for 15 years, then you’d bought yourself not just a year or two before you had to attack again, but you bought yourself 15 years. From the Obama administration perspective that was a pretty good deal and the Obama administration succeeded in crafting this deal in combination with a number of other parties including the five permanent members of the Security Council in the UN, including Russia and China, plus Germany and the EU. So, this was a remarkable feat of diplomatic coordination. Sure enough, the Iranians signed it and then they abided by it until the United States under Trump walked away from it.

So, for these reasons, I give the Obama administration a lot of credit for dealing with a proliferation issue that was going to be of serious concern to the United States and then doing it effectively by winning Iranian compliance with the terms of the agreement that were going to buy the United States 15 years. You know, 15 years, that’s a long time. Anything can happen over the course of 15 years, so you buy yourself 15 years regardless of what the Iranians are doing. At a minimum, you’ve bought yourself 15 years to perfect ways to destroy their program. If the Iranians reneged on the deal or at the end of 15 years decided, ‘You know, something, it’s been a great 15 years, but now we want a bomb.’


So, another country that we thought was trying to develop a nuclear weapon was Iraq and we just had the 20th anniversary of the second invasion of Iraq. You don’t just fault George W. Bush for that second invasion of Iraq. In the book, you actually have misgivings, and I get the impression that they’re new misgivings, about the original invasion of Iraq, the one that was launched to defend Kuwait and defend Saudi Arabia. How do you feel that the United States should have approached that first invasion of Iraq under George H.W. Bush?

Steven Simon

For sure, the George W. Bush administration would not have had Iraq in its gun sites if the preceding George H. W. Bush administration hadn’t invaded Iraq. Which doesn’t make the second Gulf War inevitable because there was an intervening factor in the form of 9/11, which was really deranging. If you look at the second Bush administration’s record from the time it takes office in 2001 to September 11th, nobody in the administration is planning to attack. That all happens with the 9/11 attack. But if you do the rewind and you look at the first Bush administration, which at the time I was very proud to serve with, they made a serious error and it was to change war aims during a war.

Now, let me explain what I mean. The Bush administration had this plan to eject the Iraqis from Kuwait and then brush the dust off, take all US forces and just go back home and say, ‘Well, we just had a really great victory and we’ve shown how there’s a new world order in place in which bad countries that attack good countries will be punished.’ Well, so far, so good. But as they’re pulling out, at the same time, they’re pushing a security council resolution that imposes very harsh requirements on Iraq. Well, okay, if that’s what you want to do, then by all means, but you can’t be doing that at the same time as you are removing all your combat power from the region.

So, they imposed post-war requirements that presupposed a different US posture in the region. One where the requirements imposed by the UN under pressure from the United States could actually be enforced. That would’ve been a problem no matter what, but there was an additional complication, which is that the actual conduct of the war was botched. It was botched because of an exaggerated estimate before the war began of the kind of resistance that the Iraqis could put up in the face of a US offensive. Well, in fact, the Iraqis were not able to resist very effectively at all. That resulted in a breakdown of coordination between the various military movements in Iraq and Kuwait that were supposed to be very finely synchronized.


So, what I’m hearing is the United States didn’t take out Iraq’s army the way that it thought it would. It thought it was going to leave Saddam Hussein entirely defenseless and leave him vulnerable to removal from office consequently. But as a result, because we didn’t finish the job, Saddam Hussein remained in power and we didn’t know what to do with him.

Steven Simon

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Yes, exactly. That’s a concise summary of the problem. Then, of course, Bush himself is not reelected. So, we’ll never know how his administration in a second term would’ve dealt with the conundrum that you just described so crisply. We do know that it fell to an inexperienced Clinton administration to deal with and they didn’t really know what to do, so they went on automatic pilot. Which is to say that they used economic sanctions to compel Saddam’s compliance with this UN resolution that I’ve talked about that had all these requirements. Sanctions don’t work that well for certain purposes and, in the case of Iraq, the sanctions had a terrible impact on the population without really hurting the regime. That was an issue.

Now, the Clinton administration, what they would say is, ‘We had other fish to fry that were more important.’ So, what was that? Well, that was managing the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Bush administration had dealt with the reunification of Germany, but the Clinton administration had to deal with a war in the Balkans and other European security issues that as a strategic matter were much more important to the United States than the situation in Iraq, which looked like it was under control.


But what I didn’t realize until I read your book was that that first Iraq war really drew us into the Middle East in a way that we hadn’t been before. I mean, Reagan had sent troops into Lebanon. We had been involved in different parts of the Middle East, but because we had UN sanctions and the need to investigate weapons production in Iraq, it drew us into the region in a way that we really hadn’t been before. That haunted the Clinton administration and definitely led us into the second Iraq War, but also haunted the Bush administration up until that point. I mean, the question of what to do about Saddam? How do we manage these weapons inspections? How do we handle all of this?

Something that I think a lot about is that the original justification for getting involved was about protecting Saudi Arabia. I mean, it started out as Desert Shield as a way to protect Saudi Arabia from Iraq as they attacked Kuwait. The idea that maybe they might actually move into Saudi Arabia or the war might spill over and then Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait and attack Iraq. It highlights our longstanding alliance and support for Saudi Arabia both as an ally of the United States and somebody who we count on to be able to work with us. Recently, Saudi Arabia just reestablished diplomatic ties with Iran and it was coordinated by China. I’d like to get your thoughts on whether or not Saudi Arabia, who we’ve had issues with for years now, really is still an ally of the United States today.

Steven Simon

So, Saudi Arabia, strictly speaking, was never an ally. An ally is a very kind of specific, technical thing. But the US and Saudi Arabia had an important shared interest. The Saudis had a lot of oil and its relationship with the United States threw around a lot of cash that drew many American policy makers, the business community and so forth into the Saudi orbit. The Saudis needed a bodyguard and the United States provided that service. That was all fair enough. It was never a people-to-people relationship. There was never a sort of a deep cultural set of factors in play. It was purely transactional and occasionally the relationship broke down as it did in 1973 and 1974 when the Saudis imposed an oil embargo on the United States that had a profoundly adverse impact on the US economy lasting for a good 10 years.

So, occasionally these transactional, you scratch my back, I scratched yours relationship broke down. Now more recently the US doesn’t really rely, as President Trump said, pretty boldly, we don’t need Saudi oil anymore. It’s not our oil. We don’t need it. It doesn’t really matter to us. At the same time, the Saudis concluded that they’ve only really got one threat on the horizon that looks like it might require a bodyguard and that’s Iran. You know, as far as the Saudis could tell JCPOA showed that the United States isn’t going to defend Saudi Arabia against Iran. The United States had some other game in mind that it was wanting to play.

So, the basis of this transactional relationship that began in 1945 began to fade. That to me is a kind of a natural process and I don’t impute any ethical importance to it at all. I mean, it’s just countries doing what it is they think serves their interests. The Chinese, unlike the United States, are deeply interested in Iran and Saudi Arabia because the Chinese thirst for oil is going to be unquenchable for the next 20 years. So, on the one hand, it shows why the Chinese are really interested in cultivating Iran and Saudi Arabia, because that’s where the oil is. It’s obvious from a Saudi perspective and an Iranian perspective why they would gravitate toward China, because that’s going to be the market that will ensure the survival of their respective regimes and certainly their prosperity.

So, for them to turn to China under these circumstances sort of makes a lot of sense. And here’s where I think perhaps perversely, the Chinese intervention here serves US interests. Because if you’re Chinese, you’re looking at this rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and you’re thinking, ‘No. No.’ You’re just thinking, ‘I’m going to knock their heads and tell them they have to cut this out and play nice.’ Because Chinese economic growth depends on peace in the Persian Gulf and the continued flow of energy resources from both sides of the Gulf, the Iranian side and the Arab.

Well, if the United States interests are served, as we have said they would be for many years, by peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia, what’s not to like? I find it hard to get worked up about the Chinese brokering of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Mind you that the Saudis had already taken the initiative along with the Iranians of having a series of high-level meetings hosted by Iraq over the past couple of years where the Saudis and the Iranians have been talking about their differences and trying to iron things out and the United Arab Emirates has been doing something very similar such as dispatching very high-level officials to Tehran to talk to counterparts there.

So, from a Gulf era perspective, once you’ve concluded that the United States is not going to take the Iranian regime off the table, then you’ve got one alternative, which is to figure out how to coexist.


So, Steven, before we started, I said that this was an all-encompassing book that was very ambitious, that touched on many subjects, and we haven’t even gotten to so many topics. I mean, I haven’t asked anything about Israel that dominated American foreign policy during this period. We haven’t talked about the Arab Spring. There are so many other topics. This is such a rich book. But I do want to ask you to bring everything together. In the book you write, “The United States would’ve been better off today had it not been so eager to intervene in the Middle East.” So, my question is, would the Middle East have been better off today if the United States had not intervened?

Steven Simon

Yeah, so that’s a counterfactual, and as such, you know, there’s really no answer. What you could say is hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, who would otherwise have lived, died. The Iraqis suffered so heavily and not just because of the 2003 war. The first war in 1991 inflicted terrible damage on Iraq and then the next 10 years of sanctions immiserated the populace and inflicted an especially punishing blow on Iraqi women and children. Then the Civil War that followed the American invasion in 2003, God knows how many people were killed. Then you’d have to trace the ISIS eruption in 2014 to the US invasion. I mean, you can’t conceive of it as being separate and that resulted in the wholesale destruction of Iraqi cities like Mosel and the horrible treatment of the Yazidi people in the Sinjar region.

Elsewhere, I think all the US exertions in the region didn’t really have a decisive or important effect. Saudi Arabia had no natural predators. Certainly, with the demise of the Cold War, Iran was not capable of invading Saudi Arabia or stealing its oil or controlling the Gulf or what have you. The smaller states on the Arab side of the Gulf, who was going to engulf and devour them?

With Israel, the United States did incubate the Israeli state. They were ethically obliged to do that because of World War II and the Holocaust and so forth. Then the Jewish people needed a homeland and Palestine was the obvious place. The United States and the French really up until 67 ensured that Israel wasn’t going to be destroyed. The new state wouldn’t be destroyed and it wasn’t. The state consolidated itself and became a military power in the region on its own and that country, as we know, has gone off on its own trajectory and now it’s probably time to step away.


Well, Steven, thank you so much for joining me today. It really is an excellent book. It’s difficult to get through this much history and so I recommend everybody to buy the book and read it. Thank you so much once again for joining me. Thank you so much for writing the book.

Steven Simon

Well, thanks for having me on the podcast. It was a lot of fun talking.

Key Links

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America’s Great Satan” By Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon in Foreign Affairs

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