Sean L. Yom has written a brilliant yet easily digestible monograph that explains the essential problem facing regimes in the Middle East today. The key idea is that external patronage, although perhaps stabilizing in the short run, is ultimately destructive by allowing leaders to forgo inclusive bargains with their domestic social groups and by encouraging reliance on repression and exclusionary institutions. External diplomatic, fiscal, and military support, in other words, is akin to the “resource curse” or foreign aid in obviating the need for regimes to develop strong social coalitions that legitimate their rule. In Yom’s view—correct, I think—state weakness follows not from “bad” institutions, as in much of the current literature, but from the failure to invest in social support. External patronage, even if only an implicit guarantee of the regime, reduces incentives for leaders to make the kinds of political and policy compromises necessary to build regime legitimacy.
This argument is illustrated in three well-researched case studies. In Kuwait, the ruling Sabah family lacked an external patron from the 1930s on. Britain, which had previously backed the regime, made clear in June 1938 that it had no intention of sustaining the family in the midst of a constitutional crisis. The monarchy was then forced to negotia
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