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Reviewed by:
  • Global Security Watch: Jordan
  • Matthew Hughes (bio)
Global Security Watch: Jordan, by W. Andrew Terrill. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010. 187 pages. $49.95.

Part of a general series on "key" countries, W. Andrew Terrill's volume will appeal to those who want an overview of Jordan's history, current security situation, and future directions. Based on English-language sources, Dr. Terrill's study [End Page 150] is balanced, readable, and concise. An examination such as the one under review is standard fare for Western security analysts and bears ready comparison to the surveys produced by bodies such as "Jane's" and the "International Institute for Strategic Studies." That said, Terrill makes good use of a range of sources to inform his neatly packaged, thematically-based chapters. The chapters coalesce around familiar topics: domestic political structures, Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, and the neighboring Arab states. The current "war on terror" is the subject of a separate chapter, but it is fair to say that the current instability in the Middle East caused by terror and counter-terror underpins all of Terrill's examination.

Jordan emerges as an unlikely country, artificially created by the British, internally unstable and surrounded by powerful, antagonistic states. Domestically, the large, dispossessed Palestinian community is one challenge; the other (and perhaps more important) internal issue is the weakness of the Jordanian economy. That Jordan has survived is in no small measure the result of the efforts made by the late King Husayn who dominated Jordanian politics from 1953 — when he took the oath of office, aged just 18 years old — to his death from cancer in 1999. In charge of a country in an exposed geopolitical position with a weak economy and political structures, Husayn never had the impact of, say, Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser, but he was Jordan, appointing and dissolving Cabinets and Prime Ministers, becoming in the process one of the region's longest-serving rulers and the figurehead for Jordan on the world stage. Husayn's pragmatic legacy is schizophrenic: support for the Palestinians but oppression when necessary; wars with Israel but also a "best of enemies" relationship and a Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty in 1994; democracy alongside authoritarian rule. And, to cap it all, a heavy dependence on foreign (largely US) aid.

Terrill deals with Jordan's history in his first chapter, but the thrust of his analysis is directed at the current tensions in the region surrounding the insurgency in Iraq and elsewhere, as one would expect from such a volume. As Terrill puts it, Jordan and its current king, 'Abdullah, are

so deeply involved in the US-led struggle against al-Qaeda and its allies that this effort can reasonably be designated as a fundamental of Jordanian foreign policy ... One of the principal reasons Jordan has been so valuable to the United States in its struggle against Islamic terrorist organizations is the deep Jordanian understanding of the cultural, tribal, and political situation in Iraq

(p. 137).

Jordan has become part of the US-led "war on terror." Thus, Jordanian intelligence (General Intelligence Directorate, or GID), it is claimed, played a big part in hunting down the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in 2006. The priority of fighting terror has led to a "go-slow" approach by the United States when it comes to supporting Jordanian democratization, fearful that Jordan's populace might vote against the country's pro-West government: "If US leaders demand democracy, it has to be with a 'let the cards fall where they may' approach. It cannot be based on the discredited theory that free elections and fully democratic institutions will inevitably produce pro-American, pro-Israeli governments in the Arab world" (p. 146). The case of Hamas in the Gaza Strip seems instructive here as a pragmatic response to such a statement.

Jordanian-Israeli relations have not been easy, even if Terrill argues that the [End Page 151] link gives Jordan some leverage over Israeli policies. Israeli intelligence launched a botched assassination attempt in Jordan on a Hamas leader in 1997, straining relations, and proving that hard-liners in Israel have little interest in developing friendly diplomatic relations with Jordan...


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