In case you haven’t been paying attention, The United States has been dawdling around the Middle East for about fifteen years now, deposing dictators and driving terrorists from one desert wasteland to the next.  That’s the conventional story, but the truth is even a little more sordid, and Andrew J Bacevich plots it out in detail from the first day to the agonizing present.

Since playing its lead role in deposing Mohammed Mosaddegh and installing the Shah of Iran in 1953, the U.S. has found itself increasingly embroiled in the 1,500-year old internecine wars of the Muslim world.  Since that inaugural episode, the U.S. military has found itself increasingly engaged in Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Kuwait, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, among others.

Regional allies have become determined foes, and enemies have become partners, and some of those partners have nonetheless found themselves on the dangerous end of the U.S. war machine, which begs the question: what the hell is the point of it all anyway?

The way Bacevich dispassionately illustrates it, it’s been a schizophrenic game of thrones, in which the Muslim world has been treated less like a chess board and more like a Zen garden; no progress is made toward any desired condition, but rather the sands are merely shifted and pushed around to make interesting new pictures, seemingly for their own sake.  The faces change, but the defining parameters of the region remain intact.

The solution, of course, is that there isn’t one.  Realistically, the U.S. cannot hope to ameliorate rifts that have existed since before the U.S. Constitution was drafted.  But it can certainly hammer these rifts into chasms, and in many cases it has.  Where U.S. action sometimes proved successful in the short-term, those victories seemed to rust quite badly over the passage of a few more years (arming the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, stationing forces in Saudi Arabia to deter Iraqi aggression, killing Ghaddafi in Libya and Hussein in Iraq, and the list goes on).

Still, we might not be able to fully grasp the long-range implications of chronic U.S. involvement in Middle East for some time.  As the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai famously responded in 1972 to a question about the final implications of the French Revolution, “It is too early to say.”