Saturday, June 02, 2007

Five best books: America in the Arab world

Michael Oren, author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East From 1776 to the Present, selected a five best list of books that "vividly capture the long history of America's encounters with the Arab world" for Opinion Journal.

The only title on the list written in my lifetime:

The Arabists by Robert D. Kaplan (The Free Press, 1993)

From 1813, with the appointment of Mordechai Emanuel Noah as U.S. consul for Tunis in north Africa, until World War I, American Jews served as U.S. diplomats in the region. The State Department believed that these Jews, though most of them German-born, formed a natural bridge between Christian America and the Muslim world. But beginning in the 1920s -- as Robert D. Kaplan charts in his riveting "The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite" -- Jews were gradually pushed out of the State Department, replaced by a generation of diplomats who encouraged Arab nationalism and who were unabashed in their anti-Zionist, indeed anti-Semitic, worldview. Deeply identifying with Arab autocrats, the Arabists served as the architects of the U.S.-Saudi alliance, represented oil interests in Washington and convinced politicians that the Middle East had far more to fear from America than vice versa. Though their monopoly began to dissolve in the 1970s -- when another German-born American Jew, Henry Kissinger, assumed control of policy making in the Middle East -- the Arabists continued to exert a disproportionate and generally deleterious influence in Washington. Kaplan's book, published in the aftermath of the first Islamist attack on the World Trade Center, acquired a greater poignancy after the second. Above all, it exposed the danger of the Arabists' illusions of a romantic, congenial Middle East.

Read more about Oren's list.

--Marshal Zeringue