- The Clash of Ideologies: Middle Eastern Politics and American Security by Mark L. Haas
Mark Haas's Clash of Ideologies: Middle Eastern Politics and American Security is an extremely interesting analysis of ideological politics in the context of inter-state relations. Its primary focus is the manner in which ideological variables influence state action, alliance formation, and perceptions of interest. The case studies that inform the research (and where the author tests his hypotheses) include the relations between the United States and Iran, Iran and Syria, the United States and Saudi Arabia, and Turkey's relations with both the European Union and the United States in the post-Cold War era.
One of the strengths of the book is that it is very well written. The structure, narrative, and theoretical framework are both clear and cogent. The really innovative contribution of the book, though, lies in the realm of international relations theory. Haas's project builds on his earlier work, and brings an ideational component into the analysis of inter-state relations. In the process, he moves beyond the dominant realist and neorealist paradigms, and offers a more nuanced understanding of the forces that drive foreign policy decision-making.
The two key variables in this study include the degree of difference between various decision-makers ("ideological distance"), and the number of influential ideologies in a given system ("ideological polarity"). The implications of both variables are important for explaining state behavior. On the one hand, large ideological differences make alliance formation difficult, while ideological affinity facilitates cooperation. This is one reason why state actors commonly promote ideological reformation of rival powers. Ideological polarity, on the other hand, helps to explain how ideological barriers to cooperation can be overcome. Mutual antipathy to a third ideological force frequently provides the basis for collaboration. The result of Haas's analysis is a nuanced understanding of the various ways in which ideas shape perceptions of interest and of threats, and in what contexts particular policies (i.e., ideological "hard line" or ideological "soft line") are more effective than others.
The cases that inform this study offer numerous insights, even for regional specialists familiar with the history. A good example is the analysis of US-Iranian and US-Syrian cooperation in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. During this period, Iran provided significant material and logistical support for the invasion of Afghanistan, while the Syrian regime aided the American intelligence community and participated in the US rendition program. In both cases, a shared enmity of Sunni militancy provided a basis for cooperation. The book also explains why US relations with these countries subsequently went awry. In both instances, the ideologically "hard-line" policy makers of the Bush Administration failed to differentiate between types of "illiberal" actors — secular and Islamist, Sunni and Shi'i — and this led to renewed sense of enmity toward Syria and Iran. The end result was a diminished efficacy of American policies. As Haas rightly notes, the "root cause of this failure is laced with irony" (p. 150). For an administration that ostensibly took ideology seriously, it had a very limited understanding of the ideological differences that inform the region.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter is the one that focuses on US-Saudi relations. At face value, this is the one case that ought to validate realist assumptions about material interest trumping ideology. However, the author's reading of this relationship highlights the various ways that ideological variables have influenced the relationship over time. During the Cold War, there was [End Page 328] a shared antipathy toward Arab nationalism and Soviet communism that bound the two states together. Even in the post-9/11 period, the hostility of Islamist militants to both the US and the Saudi regime provided a basis of cooperation. Interestingly, the biggest source of friction has been the events of the 2011 "Arab Spring," which have greatly strained relations between the US and Saudi Arabia. In short, the chapter illustrates the diverse ways in which ideology has...