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Tracking The Cold War's Legacy In The Middle East

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast hosted by NPR's Lynn Neary. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies and director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, has been called "the foremost U.S. historian of the modern Middle East" by the Los Angeles Times. He has also been vilified by detractors for being too pro-Palestinian. In his new book, Sowing Crisis, Khalidi looks to the Cold War for insights into current U.S. policy in the Middle East. The "icy tentacles" of the Cold War, Khalidi writes, "extended across the globe, with often devastating effects." And those effects, he says, are still playing out in the Middle East.

As important as post-Sept. 11 fear of terrorism has been in shaping the current American view of the Middle East, Khalidi argues that today's conflicts have their origin in the dynamics that played out between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as they vied for power in the region during the Cold War. Where terrorism is now the one-word rationale for intervention in the Middle East, communism was once the focus of our fears.

As the superpowers fought for dominance in the Middle East, the author argues, they exacerbated regional conflicts and hindered efforts at fostering democracy. Khalidi also examines the role that Arab nations have played in creating and continuing their own problems.

In its review of Sowing Crisis, Publisher's Weekly called it "an important book, essential for anyone concerned about the stability of the Middle East." But The New York Times said the book "often reads like a polemic rather than a work of history." Even so, the Times noted that President Obama might want to read this book, if for no other reason than to be reminded "how very hard it is to make progress in a region where memories are long, and practically everything is blamed on the U.S. (or Israel)."

Whether you agree with him or not, Khalidi, author of six books on the Middle East, is a compelling and distinctive voice, challenging the way we think about this important region.

This discussion of Sowing Crisis with Rashid Khalidi took place on March 5, 2009 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Lynn Neary
Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.