Threat from the East? Soviet policy from Afghanistan and Iran to the horn of Africa.
President Ronald Reagan's strongly worded statement that the USSR is solely responsible for detonating the rockslide of revolution and turmoil throughout the Near East (Moscow "underlies all the unrest that is going on," is his exact comment) is the logical continuation of a Cold War stock-in-trade mentality which obsessively prefers "to concentrate upon the simplest explanatory factor, the Soviet threat." (p. 23) Halliday finds no available evidence for this alarmist signal and contends that these scare tactics are merely clever devices aimed at subtly persuading a cost-conscious congress into reluctantly accepting increased public funds for military expenditure. Nor is the author able to identify and locate any situation which confirms U.S. anxiety that the Kremlin or its loyal surrogates are deliberately fomenting upheavals to the detriment of American interests in the region. On this point, Halliday opts for an alternative perspective.
In the case of Iran and Ethiopia, it is Washington and not Moscow that bears the lion's share of blame for the turbulent chain of events that unfolded in these countries over the last several years. Halliday argues convincingly that the "Soviet Union played no instigatory role" in the decline and eventual overthrow of the feudal regimes which were governed by Haile Selassie and the Shah. He is eminently judicious in acknowledging the fact that the "Soviet Union certainly has taken advantage of these developments," but, as he fittingly observes, "this is quite different from claiming that the Soviet Union has stage-managed events. . . . It also overstates the degree of current Soviet control over these countries and the benefit that Moscow derives from its alliances with them." When all is said and done, Washington has only itself to blame for the "popular explosions" in Ethiopia and Iran that "owed their ferocity partly to long years of repression, for which the United States bears much responsibility." (p. 85) "Furthermore, U.S. interference, directly or via U.S. junior allies, has remained a factor in the radicalization of [Ethiopia and Iran]" where "the impetus for a mass revolution, and the depth of hatred ultimately unleashed, correlated with substantial U.S. support over a quarter of a century for the imperial despots who ruled these states." (pp. 85, 103)
The Russian action in Afghanistan, while on a different plane of analysis altogether, has also been erroneously understood. Moscow's decision to install a pro-Soviet regime in Kabul by sheer force of arms, while clearly not laudable, was undertaken for perceived security reasons, principally to neutralize the possible growth of Chinese influence along its southern border. It was not intended as a springboard from which the Kremlin could easily pounce on the Middle east oil producers. The consequences of such a bold stroke leading to the shutdown of the fossil fuel tap for an energy-hungry United States would have had disastrous international consequences. The specter of a third world war arising from this scenario is something the Soviet Union well recognized and wished to avoid at all cost. In essence then, the "image of the Soviet Union unequivocally challenging the United States throughout this region is not sustainable." (p. 120)
While bitterly critical of the United States for inventing false sabre-rattling images of Soviet intentions in the general proximity of the Middle East, Halliday's study most definitely is not a blanketed whitewash of Communist Russia's policies. Undoubtedly the most admirable feature of Threat From the East? is its scrupulous even-handedness in evaluating the international posture of the superpowers. The Soviet Union does not conveniently walk away from a severe reprimand in this book, as Halliday opens fire and denounces the brutality of Russia's decision to enter Afghanistan. For the most part, the move not only backfired in Moscow's face, it also "seriously worsened the international and regional climates."
It has given a strong encouragement to anti-communist sentiment in the Islamic world at a time of growing Islamic militancy, and provided the West with the perfect issue upon which to orchestrate an international campaign against the U.S.S.R. (p. 116)
There is every reason to believe that "Soviet policy has certainly played its part, therefore, in the worsening international climate that produced the New Cold War." (p. 116)
To say that this is a good book is to understate its scholarly richness. The author has produced an extremely sophisticated synthesis based upon far-ranging research in original and secondary sources. More impressive still, Halliday has cogently described both Moscow's and Washington's policies in a way which vividly illustrates history's relevance to today's events. Not much more can be said about Threat From the East? except that it is fair, balanced, and as impartial as it is humanly possible to be. It is an unfailingly interesting study.