It’s become a habit within my family to bring up the subject of Iran every Saturday at brunch. This weekend in particular, my mom kept insisting that Iran and Israel were already at war; nothing has been officially declared and few weapons have been fired (lately), but Israeli cyber-attacks are good enough for her. According to The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran, written by former Marine Lt. Col. David Crist, there’s been much more going on between Iran and the U.S. for, well, 30 years.
Most of the events in Crist’s book – the oil crisis, the rise of the ayatollahs, the Iran-Iraq War – are well-known. The aim of his book is to list, in painstaking detail, every hostility in the Middle East in which the U.S. and Iran were both remotely involved. Laid out from end to end, the reader gains a better appreciation for the ups (yes, there have been ups) and downs of the U.S.-Iran relationship. Crist’s view of its current state is decidedly pessimistic; no one should open this book expecting a ray of sunshine to come out.
Crist himself is a military man, as was his father, with a wealth of experience serving time in the Middle East, and is currently a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is able to address strategic and political issues at hand with seemingly equal insight; in addition, he has a talent for making every bit of information he discusses vital to the narrative. Anyone who is concerned about Iran will want to read this book from cover to cover.
Regretfully, though, the book does not offer a detailed prescription for a new American approach to Iran. Crist gleefully criticizes pertinent, related decisions made by every president since Carter; however, one gets the sense that his alternative is “Take whatever you just did there and do the opposite.” As you can see here, when he does attempt this, his solutions are limited to what Washington should say, not what it should do.
Other than this – which may have been resolved had Crist had a writing partner with more policy-making experience – I enjoyed his blunt realism and his well-paced writing style. He hammers home the importance of the Iranian perspective to virtually all U.S. engagement in the Middle East, as well as the importance of a balance between caution and action. He likes smart decisions and hates dumb ones; he has no evident political bias, which is refreshing.
While The Twilight War isn’t exactly the feel-good political book of the year, it is vital reading for any future president or foreign policy official, or anyone who talks about Iran in public. I deem it shelf-worthy.