Travels Through a New Middle East

REVIEW: 'Enemies and Allies' by Joel C. Rosenberg

October 3, 2021

The Arab world of 2021 looks quite different from that of even a decade ago. Technology, trade, and new coalitions of nations have forged a geopolitical scene both dynamic and complex. In Enemies and Allies, Joel Rosenberg offers a primer on this "new Middle East."

A political novelist-cum-journalist and faith leader in between, Rosenberg offers readers a glimpse into his unfettered access to the leaders who make the Arab world tick. The Israeli-American tours Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and elsewhere during the Trump years, providing a portrait of what the future of the Middle East might look like.

Rosenberg identifies two basic trends: modernization and connectivity. In both "enemy" and "allied" countries—terms perhaps too Manichean to describe the complicated relationships of the Gulf—the proliferation of high technologies and modern methods of communication have made the region shrink.

Countries are finding new ways to live with each other, navigating centuries of historic enmity once thought unthinkable to overcome. But "enemies" are also seeking new partnerships potentially damaging to the free world. Meanwhile, in countries such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, leaders have pushed for changes that have led to growing religious freedom and pluralism almost overnight.

The trends peak with the Trump administration's Abraham Accords. Rosenberg's trips with other evangelicals throughout the region hint at the promise of the agreement: Arab leaders across the Gulf increasingly worry about Iran's strength and therefore favor heightening cooperation with Israel. The author also details his relationships with peace architects such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, giving the reader deeper insights into the strategic thinking of the Trump administration on the region.

As bullish as Rosenberg can be at times, the account doesn't shy away from hard questions. The book's longest section is devoted to a study of Saudi Arabia, complete with a discussion of successive meetings with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a man of "eager determination." The first questions Rosenberg asks the ineffable Saudi prince are about murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the future of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia—not softball queries by any means.

Though the prince's answers are neither complete nor superb, they certainly provide a fresh look into how Riyadh views important critiques of its leadership by the West. Rosenberg strikes a similar tone in describing Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, mixing conditioned praise of the country's modernization efforts with candid criticism of its shortcomings.

In this sense, Rosenberg's analysis provides a reliable guide for navigating the future of the Middle East. It also taps into enduring truths about American foreign policy: Engagement with traditional regimes—curbing their excesses while supporting our allies—may prove a better high card for policymakers in Washington than hoping for sweeping change by extending olive branches to autocracies that wish us harm.

"A posture of continuous self-abasement and apology vis-a-vis the Third World is neither morally necessary nor politically appropriate," Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote in her seminal 1979 Commentary essay "Dictatorships and Double Standards." "Liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism, and need not be incompatible with the defense of freedom and the national interest."

Unfortunately, such advice appears to fall on deaf ears in the Biden administration. From a refusal to call the Abraham Accords by their name to glad-handing hardliners in Iran, it's not clear how long Rosenberg's vision for a new Middle East will last. What is clear, however, is growing alignment between countries with hostile agendas toward America. Turkey, Iran, Russia, China, and other autocracies are sure to fill the vacuums in the region when Washington disengages.

It's a moment that demands strategic clarity, a good bit of which you'll find in this book.

Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East
by Joel C. Rosenberg
Tyndale, 376 pp., $26.99