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Book Review April 17, 2003
Islamic Studies: Faculty Only
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 3 of 4
The proof that Halliday writes badly on purpose is the fact that, when the interests of his guild require it, he can write very clearly-in fact, rather sharply. He does so in the third chapter of the book, "The Gulf War." As a note reveals, this chapter is simply a written version of a lecture Halliday gave at an IR conference. That means Halliday was speaking to fellow initiates. And my God, does it show! Instead of the endless negations wrapped like barbed wire around every assertion, this chapter features clear, even colloquial prose. Here, addressing fellow initiates, Halliday assumes the stance of a CEO summing up the corporation's fortunes, frankly and fiercely. He states clearly the insecurity which led to all his prior obfuscations: "...many people, practicioners and general readers of the press, doubt the validity of IR as an academic discipline...."

For these heretics, Halliday has a thundering response, which begins with the classic question asked by prosecutors: "[W]here were the men of 'reality' on the night of 2 August 1990, when Saddam was occupying Kuwait?" Like any good prosecutor, Halliday already knows the answer to his question: "Asleep in Surrey, or about to go to sleep in Arlington, Virginia, or Bethesda, Maryland, is the answer." In other words, these "men of 'reality'" had utterly failed to predict the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Fair enough; but Hallington goes on to say that IR is equally incapable of predicting events, explaining that "[t]he justification for IR theory must be not that it enables predictions but that, beyond any insights it can cast on events contemporary and historical, it can bring out underlying issues, analytic and moral, that are posed by international politics."

The rest of this very strange chapter consists of an inventory of IR's current status and prospects for, as it were, future profits. There's a great deal of in-house humor of the ponderous sort familiar to anyone who's sat through faculty meetings in a Commonwealth university: "From what we know of the milieu around Saddam, contradicting the boss is not a low-risk strategy...."

Having loosened up the crowd with a laugh, this startlingly chummy new Halliday persona moves quickly to an upbeat look to the future. The 1991 Gulf War, however unfortunate it may have been for a few thousand dead Kuwaitis and Iraqis, has been good for the interests of the IR Guild, as he states in the concluding sentence of the chapter: "If nothing else, the Gulf crisis showed that those who teach and research in the field of IR have a job, indeed several jobs, to do."

And that, it would appear, is what's really important to Halliday. It's eerily reminiscent of Bush Sr.'s tag-phrase: "Jobs, jobs, jobs!" That's what really matters to the thoroughly embedded IR academic: making sure that the guild is not revealed as a society of charlatans, and that the tenure of oneself and one's colleagues is not at risk. And for that purpose, what could be better than the occasional surprise invasion? That'll teach those jumped-up reporters to mind their betters.

The wonder is really that Halliday would have had such contempt for his non-IR readers that he would insert this chatty address in his book, presenting it as a serious discussion of the origins of the 1991 Gulf War. But then, contempt for outsiders is the dominant tone of the book.

In the latter half of the book, Halliday moves from warning off potential civilian rivals, "practitioners and general readers of the press," to confronting a threat from within the academic world: Edward Said and the other theorists of post-Colonialism. Halliday's technique is that classic Anglo-American prejudice, particularism: since there's no such thing as a coherent entity called "the Middle East," it's impossible to write about it in the generalized way Said does. It's a classic piece of "Hang on a minute!" prose, written with furrowed brow and a great deal of tut-tutting: "...we should be cautious about any critique which identifies such a widespread and pervasive single error [Said's "Orientalism"] at the core of a range of literature."

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