- Wer den Wind sät: Was westliche Politik im Orient anrichtet by Michael Lüder
Wer den Wind sät has received a great deal of attention in Germany. Already on its 24th printing, this pithy volume has been a top-ten best seller for most of the last two years. There is good reason for this. Lüders, the Near East correspondent for the German newspaper Die Zeit, writes in lively, informative, and highly readable prose. His arguments are clear and, though sophisticated, easy to follow. This is not an academic book. Little of the information contained herein is particularly obscure. Few of Lüders' contentions are wholly novel on their own, though they tend to be compelling. The sources that inform the book, moreover, are rarely identified (there are neither footnotes nor a bibliography), though they seem readily accessible and commonly accessed. This is not to say, however, that the book is lacking. Indeed, the strength of the book lies in the skillful way Lüders weaves together sometimes divergent narratives to support his primary argument: western foreign policy has destabilized the Islamic world and created the conditions in which radical Islamist groups have prospered to the greater detriment of the region and the world.
Wer den Wind sät begins with the American (over)reaction to the appointment of the populist, secular Mohammed Mossadegh to the position of Prime Minister of Iran. Indeed, Mossadegh fell out with the Americans and British with his May 1951 nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). As is now well known, the CIA [End Page 247] and MI6 undermined his flirtation with socialism by orchestrating a putsch that ultimately reinstated the unpopular Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who, in turn, returned the nationalized concessions to AIOC. This Anglo-American act, Lüders contends, set the stage for the radicalization and popularization of Islamic-fundamentalist ideologies, which culminated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. As Lüders avers, "Without the putsch of 1953 (there would be) no Islamic Revolution of 1979" (p. 21).
Lüders then shifts his focus southward to Iran's chief regional rival: Wahhabist Saudi Arabia. Here, he grapples with a topic that is often only uncomfortably discussed in the American media even as it received intermittent attention with the 2016 "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act" and, more sporadically, the ongoing Iranian-Saudi proxy war in Yemen. Since its earliest days, the Saudi regime has used brutal tactics to suppress domestic dissent. Riding a massive wave of petrodollars, it has also supported Salafist and other "ultraconservative" Jihadist organizations throughout the Arab and eastern Islamic world. And, it has done so largely with the consent—whether tacit or explicit—of the United States, often to the detriment of regional democratic and American interests.
A prime example of this phenomenon is the Saudi-U.S. support for the Jihadist Mujahedeen in its war against the Soviets. Although the U.S. succeeded in its immediate goal of embroiling the Soviet Union in its own Vietnam, these activities had unintended consequences. Foremost among these was the complicity of Al-Qaeda—led by the Saudi Arabian Osama Bin Laden—and the Taliban—a product of Wahhabist madrassas and the Mujahedeen's fracturing—in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In its own national and economic interests, Lüders argues, America has often supported regimes with the same authoritarian and fanatical qualities it has fervently opposed in others. Often, such short-sighted distinctions between "good" and "bad" Jihadists or authoritarians can be applied inconsistently to the same regime depending on the enemy du jour.
The regime of Saddam Hussein offers another example. After receiving American support in his war of attrition against the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hussein quickly turned his attentions to neighboring, petroleum-rich Kuwait. This provoked an American military response, followed by a decade of bellicose rhetoric and international sanctions. It culminated in the 2003American invasion that laid the foundation for the Iraqi...