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Review: "The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East."

"The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East."


Throughout Ray Takeyh and Steven Simon’s work, The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East, both authors provide a detailed analysis of America’s involvement in the Middle-East during the Cold War (from 1945 to 1991). As tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union continued to rise in the mid-1950s, Takeyh and Simon argue that the Middle-East was a crucial region to control due to its high-level of natural resources (particularly oil and gas), access to warm-water ports, and its central locality in global affairs. Consequently, Takeyh and Simon’s book explores how the United States gradually gained control and influence over this region through a variety of diplomatic endeavors; often using (and encouraging) Arab “nationalism” in order to boost anti-communist sentiment throughout the region.

Main Points

By exploring the conflict from this perspective, the authors provide an important illustration of early Cold War politics: in particular, the American and Soviet attempts to acquire third-world countries for the purpose of fighting in proxy-wars. Takeyh and Simon’s work shows that conflict in the Middle-East represented a high-point in American diplomacy; allowing it to develop and secure its status as a world superpower and to, ultimately, win the Cold War. Thus, according to the authors, the Middle-East represented an important step towards victory for the Americans, particularly during the early 1950s as conflict with the Soviets was just beginning to manifest itself into a serious problem for the west.

Concluding Thoughts

Takeyh and Simon’s book incorporates a large array of primary documents that include: diaries, memoirs, letters, American diplomatic records, as well as documents and files from the U.S. State Department. While their work is well-argued and articulated, a key weakness of this book lies in the fact that both authors choose to ignore records from a Middle-Eastern perspective; thus, portraying American interference within this region in a one-side manner. Regardless of this shortcoming, this work is important to consider for historians as it highlights the active involvement (and commitment) of American interests in this particular region of the world.

All in all, I give this work 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in both the short and long-term effects of Cold War diplomacy in the Middle East. Definitely check this book out if you get the chance! It is a great read!


Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion

1.) What was Takeyh and Simon's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the authors makes in this work? Is their argument persuasive? Why or why not?

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2.) What type of primary source material does the authors rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder their overall argument?

3.) Does Takeyh and Simon organize their work in a logical and convincing manner? Why or why not?

4.) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the authors have improved the contents of this work?

5.) Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?

6.) What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?

7.) What sort of scholarship are the authors building on (or challenging) with this work? Does this book add substantially to existing research and trends within the historical community? Why or why not?

8.) Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the authors?

Works Cited:

Takeyh, Ray and Steven Simon. The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

© 2017 Larry Slawson

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