What Really Went Wrong: The West and the failure of democracy in the Middle East

What Really Went Wrong offers a fresh and incisive assessment of American foreign policy’s impact on the history and politics of the modern Middle East. Looking at flashpoints in Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, and Lebanese history, Fawaz A. Gerges shows how postwar U.S. leaders made a devil’s pact with potentates, autocrats, and strongmen around the world. Washington sought to tame assertive nationalists and to protect repressive Middle Eastern regimes in return for compliance with American hegemonic designs and uninterrupted flows of cheap oil.

The book takes a counterfactual approach, asking readers to consider how the political trajectories of these countries and, by extension, the entire region may have differed had U.S. foreign policy privileged the nationalist aspirations of patriotic and independent Middle Eastern leaders and people. Gerges argues that rather than focusing on rolling back communism, extracting oil, and pursuing interventionist and imperial policies in Iran, Egypt, and beyond, postwar U.S. leaders should have allowed the Middle East greater autonomy in charting its own political and economic development. In so doing, the contemporary Middle East may have had better prospects for stability, prosperity, peace, and democracy.

Praise :

“Fawaz Gerges does a masterful job of exposing the decades of fiascos, debacles and gratuitous violence that define the bumbling of U.S. empire in the Middle East. This is a searing indictment of an American foreign policy establishment that, in country after country in the Middle East, consistently made things worse.”—Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize–winning former Middle East Bureau chief for the New York Times

“Gerges, one of our keenest observers of the Middle East, shows how Washington’s Cold Warriors misunderstood Iranian and Egyptian nationalism in the 1950s, and through coups and interventions began the destabilization of the region. It is a bracing tale of hubris and overweening ambition.”—Juan Cole, University of Michigan

“Fawaz Gerges’s What Really Went Wrong is a must read. While there are many books on the Middle East, none offer its data, documentation and unique analysis, critique and conclusions of the trajectory of the George W. Bush administration’s flawed foreign policy. Gerges’s book should be required reading in courses on the history and politics of the Middle East and American foreign policy and diplomacy.”—John L. Esposito, author of The Future of Islam

About the author

Fawaz A. Gerges is Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and holder of the Emirates Professorship in Contemporary Middle East Studies. He was also the inaugural Director of the LSE Middle East Centre from 2010 until 2013. He earned a doctorate from Oxford University and M.Sc. from the London School of Economics. Gerges has taught at Oxford, Harvard, and Columbia, and was a research scholar at Princeton and the chairholder of the Christian A. Johnson Chair in Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College, New York. His special interests include Islam and the political process, social movements, including mainstream Islamist movements and jihadist groups (like the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda), Arab politics and Muslim politics in the 20th century, the international relations of the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, state and society in the Middle East, American foreign policy towards the Muslim world, the modern history of the Middle East, history of conflict, diplomacy and foreign policy, and historical sociology. Gerges’ upcoming book is The Hundred Years’ War for Control of the Middle East: From Sykes-Picot to the Deal of the Century (Princeton University Press (2021).