Gershom Gorenberg writes about how hardened assumptions about the Middle East, combined with a tendency to willfully ignore the interests of individual regimes in favor of a grand strategic framework, have often blinded American policymakers to reality in the region.
Ever since it turned out that Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction were the equivalent of a toy pistol in a bank robber's hand, people have wondered why he maintained the illusion. The suggestion I've heard in café conversations in Jerusalem always made most sense to me: Saddam was much more scared of Iran than of the United States, and wanted at least the silhouette of a deterrent. This was a bad gamble, but then so was invading Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. To the extent that the Bush administration convinced itself, and not just the public, that the toy was real, it failed to consider what the Middle East looked like from the inside. It regarded Iran and Iraq as co-members of an anti-American "axis of evil." But Saddam had more enemies than just America. And rulers of Mesopotamia have been afraid of Persia for much longer than the United States has been part of the picture.
Read the whole thing here.