Review: Chamberlin, “The Global Offensive”

global offensive

Paul Thomas Chamberlin, “The Global Offensive: the United States, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order” (2012)

This is a pretty respectable entry in the new global history. Chamberlin argues that the self-assertion of the PLO — a non-state actor on behalf of a non-recognized nation — prized open apertures in the international system in the 1970s that help lay the groundwork for the way international politics would go once the Cold War was over. There’s some illuminating stuff here involving the Nixon White House’s ambitions in the Middle East and the way they essentially tried to institutionalize their denial about the way the Palestinian question disrupted Kissinger’s little Risk board, and about the zillion threads (from Arab state rivalries to spiraling radicalization inspired by camp conditions) Arafat had to manage. Stuff like airline hijackings, which struck me as tactically foolish even leaving the morals aside, make some more sense now- airlines operate (legally) in the transnational space the Palestinian guerrillas did (illegally), the place where they felt they could get some kind of leverage, however tenuous.

The book has some of the disadvantages of the new global history, though. In many respects, it deploys breadth of archival research — the sheer “wow” factor of using archives from multiple countries and languages — in exchange for analytical depth. Most of these books are built-up dissertations, and it shows in terms of their argumentative tentativeness, even as the subtitles some publisher slaps on promises big things. There’s also a dissertation-esque kitchen-sink quality to the source usage- every time the PLO makes a splash, we hear what Tunisians thought about it and what Ghanaians thought about it and French and Indians and so on and so on. The global state of opinion about Israel/Palestine is important to Chamberlin’s story, but there have to have been more elegant ways of conveying that. One more little niggle- the Palestinians weren’t the first to do transnational insurgency. The Irish Fenians, the Armenian Dashnak, Macedonian rebels, and at least to an extent Zionists all had transnational resistance networks well before the PLO was formed… to say nothing about anarchist and communist groups. Still and all, worth reading if you’re interested in diplomatic history of the late 20th century, especially history that takes non-state actors into account. ***’

Review: Chamberlin, “The Global Offensive”

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