The Great Distraction: The Near East and North Korea

  • Richard Javad Heydarian


Drawing on the works of Samuel Huntington and Edward Said, the chapter provides an overview of competing visions for American foreign policy and it’s broader geopolitical role in the Greater Middle East. The chapter provides a historical overview of the evolution of American policy in the region; it’s progressive entanglement in regional politics, including in domestic affairs of key states; and the wave of military interventions and armed conflicts, which have sapped American power and prestige in the region and beyond. It looks at how the Greater Middle East could turn into a graveyard for the American Empire unless the Trump administration avoids getting dragged into another conflict in the region, especially with Iran.


Clash of civilizations Strategic retrenchment Iran 


  1. Abdul-Ahad, Ghaith. “Diary.” London Review of Books 37, no. 10 (2015).
  2. Abu-Rabi, Ibrahim. The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Afary, Janet, and Kevin Anderson. Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, annotated edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Akyol, Mustafa. Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.Google Scholar
  5. Algeriani, Adel Abdul-Aziz, and Mawloud Mohadi. “Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and Its Influence on the U.S. Foreign Policy (an Analytical Study).” Journal of Global Business and Social Entrepreneurship 4, no. 10 (2018): 1–9.
  6. Angus, Ian. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016.Google Scholar
  7. Ansari, Ali. Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Crisis in the Middle East and the Next Great Crisis in the Middle East. New York: Basic Books, 2007.Google Scholar
  8. Ansari, Ali. “The Iranian Revolution: Why 1979’s Uprising Still Shapes the Middle East.” BBC World Histories Magazine. February 20, 2019.
  9. Arnold, Michael. “Two-State Solution.” Bloomberg. April 11, 2019.
  10. Batchelor, Tom. “Israel Security Forces May Be Guilty of War Crimes Over Killings of Palestinians in Gaza, UN Says.” Independent. February 28, 2019.
  11. Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, 1st edition. New York: Liveright, 2015.Google Scholar
  12. Beauchamp, Zack. “Trump’s Withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, Explained.” Vox. May 8, 2018.
  13. Bennis, Phyllis. “Iran Deal: A Game-Changer for the Middle East.” Foreign Policy in Focus. April 2, 2015.
  14. Bilmes, Linda, and Joseph Stiglitz. The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.Google Scholar
  15. Bishara, Marwan. “Arrogance, Fanaticism and the Prospect of a US-Iranian War.” Aljazeera. April 30, 2019.
  16. Bowden, Mark. “How to Deal with North Korea.” The Atlantic. July/August 2017.
  17. Bozorgmehr, Najmeh. “Ayatollah Invokes ‘Heroic Flexibility’ to Justify Iran Deal.” Financial Times. July 15, 2015.
  18. Bozorgmehr, Najmeh. “China and Iran Plan Oil Barter.” Financial Times. July 25, 2011.
  19. Brewer, Eric, and Jung H. Pak. “How to Tell When North Korea Starts to Denuclearize.” The Atlantic.
  20. Broder, Jonathan. “South Korea’s President Played Matchmaker for Trump and Kim, but Will It End War or Start Another?” Newsweek. July 5, 2018.
  21. Brown, Harold, and Joyce Winslow. Star Spangled Security: Applying Lessons Learned Over Six Decades Safeguarding America. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, p. 187, 2012.Google Scholar
  22. Bulos, Nabih. “Seventeen Years After Sept. 11, Al Qaeda May Be Stronger Than Ever.” Los Angeles Times. September 10, 2018.
  23. Burleigh, Michael. “No Wonder They Call Him Little Saddam: MICHAEL BURLEIGH says Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman Is an Unstable Despot Whose Bloodlust Threatens the Entire Middle East.” Daily Mail. October 20, 2018.
  24. Calamur, Krishnadev. “Iran Talks: In Tehran, Blaring Horns, Chants, Cheers.” National Public Radio. April 2, 2015.
  25. Campbell, Kurt. The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia. New York: Twelve, 2016.Google Scholar
  26. Cappacio, Anthony. “Iran’s Russian Anti-Aircraft Missile Now Operational, U.S. Says.” Bloomberg. March 7, 2018.
  27. Chen, Stephen. “North Korea’s Nuclear Test Site Has Collapsed… and That May Be Why Kim Jong-Un Suspended Tests.” South China Morning Post. April 25, 2018.
  28. “China Hosts Silk Road Forum to Revive Trade Route.” Aljazeera. May 14, 2017.
  29. Chivers, C.J. “War Without End.” The New York Times. August 8, 2018.
  30. Choe, Sang-Hun. “North Korea Is Expanding Missile Base with Eye Toward U.S., Experts Warn.” The New York Times. December 6, 2018.
  31. Cooper, Heleen. “U.S. Strategy in Iraq Increasingly Relies on Iran.” The New York Times. March 5, 2015.
  32. Danforth, Nick. “The Myth of the Caliphate.” Foreign Affairs. November 19, 2014.
  33. “Dar al-Sulh.” In John L. Esposito (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  34. Davenport, Kelsey. “EU Trade Tool Seeks to Save Iran Nuclear Deal.” Arms Control Association. March 2019.
  35. Defterios, John. “Iran Deal Could Unlock Huge Economic Potential.” CNN Business. April 1, 2015.
  36. Dignas, Beate, and Engelbert Winther. Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Erdbrink, Thomas. “Iran’s Hard-Liners Show Restraint on Nuclear Talks with U.S.” The New York Times. March 23, 2015.
  38. Finnegan, Michael, and Seema Mehta. “Trump Says He Opposed Iraq War from the Start: He Did Not.” Los Angeles Times. October 9, 2016.
  39. Fisk, Robert. The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.Google Scholar
  40. Formichi, Chiara. “Violence, Sectarianism, and the Politics of Religion: Articulations of Anti-Shi’a Discourses in Indonesia.” Indonesia 98 (2014): 1–27. Scholar
  41. Francis, Ellen. “Islamic State Faces Final Territorial Defeat in Eastern Syria Battle.” Reuters. March 2, 2019.
  42. Freedman, Lawrence. Strategy: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  43. Gardner, David. “Barack Obama Failed to Fulfil Promise of His Middle East Policy.” Financial Times. January 11, 2017.
  44. Gerges, Fawaz. Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment? New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.Google Scholar
  45. Gibbon, Edward, and David Womersley. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. London: Penguin, 2000.Google Scholar
  46. Haag, Matthew, and Michael Grynbaum. “Time Names Person of the Year for 2018: Jamal Khashoggi and Other Journalists.” The New York Times. December 11, 2018.
  47. Habibi, Nader. “The Iranian Economy Two Years After the Nuclear Agreement.” Crown Center for Middle East Studies. 2018.
  48. Hamid, Shadi. Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2017.Google Scholar
  49. Heavey, Susan. “Trump Defends U.S. Withdrawal from Syria, Says Others Must Fight.” Reuters. December 20, 2018.
  50. Heydarian, Richard Javad. “Iran Sanctions: Collective Punishment.” The Huffington Post. October 30, 2012.
  51. Heydarian, Richard Javad. How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings. London: Zed Books, 2014a.Google Scholar
  52. Heydarian, Richard Javad. “Post-sanctions Iran: The Next China?” Aljazeera. June 30, 2014b.
  53. Hincks, Joseph. “Israel and Iran Are Waging a Secret War in Syria: Here’s How It Finally Went Public.” Time. January 25, 2019.
  54. Hjelmgaard, Kim. “China Clamps Down on North Korea Trade as Part of U.N. Sanctions.” USA Today. January 5, 2018.
  55. Hodgson, Marshall. The Venture of Islam, Volume 3: The Gunpower Empires and Modern Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.Google Scholar
  56. Huntington, Samuel. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs. June 1, 1993.
  57. Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.Google Scholar
  58. International Atomic Energy Agency. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapon (Information Circular). April 22, 1970.
  59. “Iran Sanctions Raise Saudi Doubts.” Aljazeera. February 16, 2010.
  60. Jeffrey, James, and Michael Eisenstadt. U.S. Military Engagement in the Broader Middle East. Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2016.Google Scholar
  61. Kaplan, Robert. The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. New York: Penguin Random House, 2013.Google Scholar
  62. Karami, Arash. “Iran Negotiator Thanks Supreme Leader for Support.” Al-Monitor. November 10, 2014.
  63. Kim, Christine. “N.Korea Still Needs Time to Perfect Re-Entry Technology—S.Korea Vice Def Min.” Reuters. August 14, 2017.
  64. Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, 2nd edition. Hoboken: Wiley, 2008.Google Scholar
  65. Kissinger, Henry. On China. London: Penguin Books, 2012.Google Scholar
  66. Kissinger, Henry. World Order. London: Penguin Books, 2015.Google Scholar
  67. Landler, Mark. “In Extraordinary Statement, Trump Stands with Saudis Despite Khashoggi Killing.” The New York Times. November 20, 2018.
  68. Landler, Mark. “Trump Takes Credit for Saudi Move Against Qatar, a U.S. Military Partner.” The New York Times. June 6, 2017.
  69. Lee, Youkyung. “Kim Jong Un’s Cryptic Moves Puzzle North Korea Watchers.” Bloomberg. March 2, 2019.
  70. Lee, Kyung-Min. “Sanctions Push N. Korean Economy to Brink.” The Korea Times. March 2019.
  71. Lendon, Brad. “Qatar Hosts Largest US Military Base in Mideast.” CNN. June 6, 2017.
  72. Leverett, Flynt. “Why Libya Gave Up on the Bomb.” January 23, 2004.
  73. Lewis, Bernard. “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” The Atlantic. September 1990.
  74. Lin, Justin Yifu. “The Household Responsibility System in China’s Agricultural Reform: A Theoretical and Empirical Study.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 36, no. 3 (1988): S199–224. Scholar
  75. Liptak, Kevin, and Jeremy Diamond. “‘Sometimes You Have to Walk’: Trump Leaves Hanoi with No Deal.” CNN Politics. February 28, 2019.
  76. Lutz, Meris. “Iran, Saudi Arabia: Islamic Solidarity Games in Tehran Canceled Over ‘Persian Gulf’ spat.” Los Angeles Times. January 18, 2010.
  77. Mabon, Simon. Saudi Arabia and Iran: Power and Rivalry in the Middle East. London: I.B. Tauris, 2015.Google Scholar
  78. Mason, Jeff, and Hyonhee Shin. “Summit Collapse Clouds Future of U.S.-North Korea Nuclear Diplomacy.” Reuters. February 25, 2019.
  79. Mearsheimer, John, and Stephen Walt. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.Google Scholar
  80. Memoli, Michael, and Christi Parsons. “Obama: Outline of Nuclear Deal with Iran Could Make ‘Our World Safer’.” Los Angeles Times. April 2, 2015.
  81. Mishra, Pankaj. “Why Weren’t They Grateful?” London Review of Books 34, no. 12 (2012): 19–20.
  82. Mogato, Manuel. “Philippines Suspends Trade with North Korea to Comply with U.N. Resolution.” Reuters. September 8, 2017.
  83. Montanaro, Domenico. “Americans Support Iran Talks, but Doubt They’ll Prevent a Weapon.” National Public Radio. April 2, 2015.
  84. Moon, Chung-in. “A Real Path to Peace on the Korean Peninsula.” Foreign Affairs. April 30, 2018a.
  85. Moon, Chung-in. “The Progress and Promise of the Moon-Kim Summit.” Foreign Affairs. April 30, 2018b.
  86. Morello, Carol. “Iran Talks to Be Extended Another Day.” The Washington Post. April 1, 2015.
  87. Myre, Greg. “America’s Middle East Scorecard: Many Interventions, Few Successes.” National Public Radio. August 25, 2014.
  88. Nasr, Vali. The Shia Revival. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.Google Scholar
  89. Obama, Barack. “The President’s Speech in Cairo: A New Beginning.” 2009. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  90. O’Mahony, Angela, Miranda Priebe, Bryan Frederick, Jennifer Kavanagh, Matthew Lane, Trevor Johnston, Thomas Szayna, Jakub Hlavka, Stephen Watts, and Matthew Povlock. U.S. Presence and the Incidence of Conflict. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018.Google Scholar
  91. Pan, Esther. “North Korea’s Capitalist Experiment.” Council on Foreign Relations. June 7, 2006.
  92. “Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula.” ABC News. April 27, 2018.
  93. Parsi, Trita. A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.Google Scholar
  94. Pearson-Jones, Bridie. “School Friends of Kim Jong-un Describe How He Was a Good Basketball Player Despite Only Being 5ʹ 6ʹʹ and ‘Good for a Laugh’.” Daily Mail. January 15, 2018.
  95. Petito, Fabio. “Khatami’ Dialogue Among Civilizations as International Political Theory.” Journal of Humanities 11, no. 3 (2004): 11–29.
  96. “Pompeo Says God May Have Sent Trump to Save Israel from Iran.” BBC News. March 22, 2019.
  97. Porter, Gareth. “In an Exclusive Interview, a Top Iranian Official Says That Khomeini Personally Stopped Him from Building Iran’s WMD Program.” Foreign Policy. October 16, 2014a.
  98. Porter, Gareth. “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.” Foreign Affairs. April 21, 2014b.
  99. Porter, Patrick. “Sharing Power? Prospects for a U.S. Concert-Balance Strategy.” Strategic Studies Institute. April 26, 2013.
  100. Rascouet, Angelina, and Hashem Kalantari. “Iran Can Add Million Barrels a Day of Oil if Sanctions Halt.” Bloomberg. March 17, 2015.
  101. “Reaction from Around the World to Nuclear Deal with Iran.” The Associated Press. April 3, 2015.
  102. Revere, Evans. “Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Speech: A Kinder, Gentler North Korea?” January 3, 2013.
  103. Rezaian, Jason. “In Iran, Narrow World Cup Loss to Argentina Is Still Cause for Celebration.” The Washington Post. June 21, 2014.
  104. Risen, James, and Mark Mazzetti. “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” The New York Times. February 24, 2012.
  105. Romo, Vanessa. “Trump Formally Recognizes Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights.” National Public Radio. March 25, 2019.
  106. Rosenfeld, Everett. “Read the Full Text of the Trump-Kim Agreement Here.” CNBC. June 12, 2018.
  107. Sachs, Natan. “Iran’s Revolution, 40 Years On: Israel’s Reverse Periphery Doctrine.” January 24, 2019.
  108. Said, Edward. “The Clash of Ignorance.” The Nation. October 4, 2001.
  109. Saleem, Saleena. “Saudi Arabia’s Shaken Pillars: Impact on Southeast Asian Muslims.” RSIS Commentaries No. 133. June 1, 2016.
  110. “Saudi Arabia Gives Israel Clear Skies to Attack Iranian Nuclear Sites.” The Times. June 12, 2010.
  111. Savage, Charlie. Power Wars: The Relentless Rise of Presidential Authority and Secrecy. New York: Back Bay Books, 2017.Google Scholar
  112. Seligman, Lara, and Robbie Gramer. “At Trump’s Pentagon, Empty Offices Are the New Normal.” Foreign Policy. March 12, 2019.
  113. Shahi, Deepshikha. “Revisiting the Clash of Civilizations Thesis After 9/11.” E-International Relations. March 23, 2017.
  114. Shapiro, Daniel. “Trump Kill the Two-State Solution.” Foreign Policy. January 23, 2019.
  115. Shin Hyonhee, and Josh Smith. “South Korea Pushes Back at Trump Claims About More Money for Troop Agreement.” Reuters. February 13, 2019.
  116. Sick, Gary. All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran. Bloomington: iUniverse, 2001.Google Scholar
  117. Soldatkin, Vladimir. “Russian Offers Iran Latest Anti-Aircraft Missiles: TASS.” Reuters. February 23, 2015.
  118. Stern, Jessica, and J.M. Berger. ISIS: The State of Terror. Bredebro: Ecco, 2016.Google Scholar
  119. Sun Tzu. The Art of War, first thus edition. Las Vegas: Filiquarian, 2007.Google Scholar
  120. Tharoor, Ishaan. “A Step-by-Step Guide to What the Iran Agreement Actually Means.” The Washington Post. April 2, 2015.
  121. The Godfather III. Directed by Francis Coppola. Beverly Hills: Paramount Pictures, 1990.Google Scholar
  122. “The World’s Biggest Natural Gas Reserves.” Hydrocarbons Technology. November 11, 2013.
  123. “Trump Blames Cohen Testimony for Collapse of Summit with Kim Jong-un.” The Guardian. March 4, 2019.
  124. “Trump Defends Saudi Arabia Ties Despite Khashoggi Murder.” BBC News. November 20, 2018.
  125. U.C. Berkeley Events. “Conversations with History—Trita Parsi.” Youtube Video, 1:00:08. Posted December 3, 2007.
  126. U.S. Department of State. Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Full Text). July 4, 2015a.
  127. U.S. Department of State. Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program. April 2, 2015b.
  128. “Vietnam War.” October 29, 2009.
  129. Wadhams, Nick, Glen Carey, and Margaret Taley. “Trump to Escalate Iran Feud by Ending Waivers; Oil Prices Climb.” Bloomberg. April 22, 2019.
  130. Waltz, Kenneth. “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb.” Foreign Affairs. June 15, 2012.
  131. Ward, Alex, and Jen Kirby. “James Mattis, the Last “Adult” in the Trump Administration, Resigns as Defense Secretary.” Vox. December 20, 2018.
  132. Weiner, Jon. “Obama and the Palestinian Professors.” The Nation. April 10, 2008.
  133. Weiss, Michael, and Hassan Hassan. ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. New York: Regan Arts, 2016.Google Scholar
  134. Wike, Richard. “7 Charts on How the World Views President Obama.” Pew Research Center. 2015.
  135. Woodward, Bob. Fear: Trump in the White House. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.Google Scholar
  136. Wong, Edward, and Catie Edmonson. “Pompeo Refuses to Say What U.S. Would Do if Israel Annexes West Bank.” The New York Times. April 9, 2019.
  137. Wright, Robin. “The Adversary: Is Iran’s Nuclear Negotiator, Javad Zarif, for Real?” The New Yorker. May 19, 2014.
  138. Wroughton, Lesley. “U.S., Iran Positive After Nuclear Talks, Say Much Left to Do.” Reuters. February 24, 2015.
  139. Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. New York: Free Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  140. Zenko, Micah. “US Military Policy in the Middle East: An Appraisal.” Chatham House: The Royal Institute of International Affairs. October 18, 2018.
  141. Zunes, Stephen. “A History Lesson: US Intervention in the Middle East.” Global Policy. February 10, 2003.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Javad Heydarian
    • 1
  1. 1.Visiting Research FellowNational Chengchi UniversityTaipeiTaiwan

Personalised recommendations