Most Americans probably think that the American involvement in the Middle East began in the last forty years or so. A few might remember that it goes back to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. In fact, as detailed on the pages of "Power, Faith, Fantasy", The Middle East has been an important theatre of American foreign policy since the foundation of the Republic. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had to deal with Barbary Pirates who molested the shipping of Christian countries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whereas Adams followed the pattern of European countries in trying to buy protection by paying tribute, Jefferson chose a military response to free American hostages and put an end to the Mediterranean piracy. It was Jefferson's policy that compelled the re-establishment of the U.S. Navy.
Author Michael Oren does an excellent job of illustrating the various motivations that have driven American policy in the Middle East over the centuries. After the defeat of the Barbary States American interest in the Middle East was defined by Faith-based initiatives intending to restore the Jews to the Holy Land. Others established education institutions that transformed Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. By the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, kidnapping was again the cause of contention as Roosevelt demanded that "This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead." As Roosevelt's projection of American power gave way to Wilsonian idealism, this minister's son was again driven by ideals of Faith and an unwillingness to jeopardize American citizens working in the schools previously established. This unwillingness prevented a U.S. declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The lack of involvement kept the U.S. out of the post-war decisions regarding the Middle East. Nazi conquest of North Africa drew the United States into the region in 1942 with the Operation Torch landings in Morocco and Algeria. After the war the U.S. would be involved in the establishment of Israel and, with the retreat of the European powers, would become the dominant outside force in the region. From 1948 on the Middle East was never far from the minds of American policy makers, whether concerned with the survival of Israel, the supply of oil, Soviet rivalry, kidnappings or terrorism. Through all of this the American public had to discern fact from fantasy, the world of flying carpets and 1,001 Arabian Nights from the one of oil wells and terrorist bombings.
This book brings the long history of American involvement into perspective. It helps the reader understand that it did not begin with anything that we can remember while tying together themes that have intertwined the centuries. It helps us see how the Middle east has changed us and how we have changed that region. Given the importance of the Middle East in America's future this is a book for all to read.
The book starts out slow and gradually gains velocity. Its heavy focus on the first century and a half of US history allows for story telling about many individual soldiers, missionaries, or adventurers who went to the Middle East. Then the entanglements grow more complicated, and the momentum of events builds. By the 1980s, the writing is a fairly breathless rush of momentous events. It's good to have it all flash before your eyes like this, but it's little more than a stream of headlines. Through the whole big story, Oren highlights what has been noble in America's efforts, while always including critical views. He does an excellent job of capturing America's part in the rise of Israel, and the difficult choices Americans made in response to a rising tragedy, as Jewish refugees fled from the bonfire of anti-Semitic Europe into the frying pan of an anti-colonial Middle East. As for recent conflicts, Oren seems cautious in judging his contemporaries. He seems to feel that presenting the big picture of the past will provide balance, and the present will be judged by future works of history. I would have liked to see more on America's relations with Saudi Arabia, and a greater discussion of the issues in political or military control of religious movements.
I thoroughly enjoyed Oren's book "Six Days of War", so I decided to read this book (which is quite a heavy read). This book definitely exceeded my expectations, and in my opinion is his best book so far. Oren manages to successfully depict America's relationship with the Middle East, from the outset till the present. What I think is important about a work like this, is that it allows one to see the wider picture in a totality. This is something which is important in the current time, as people tend to make subjective observations about events, and then go on to make warped judgements. For example, Oren goes into great detail about the "Barbary Wars". This proves that it is not oil and the Israeli-Arab conflict, which have been driving violence in the Middle East, as some say. As a result of the Barbary Wars, the U.S.A was forced to commission a top class navy, and some could say this was the beginning of their rise to power. I highly recommend this book, if you are looking for a stimulating and enlightening read.
Michael Oren's POWER, FAITH and FANTASY is an immensely researched (80 pages of notes and a 50 page bibliography) and cohesively written accound of American impact in the middle east from the beginnings of America until the present. The background research and anecdotes provide a firm footing for any interested party who wants to know how the United States and the Middle East arrived to the situations they are in today.
Most notably, Oren describes the personalities of the people involved, and reminds us through evidence and quotes, that the policies of countries (whether democracy, autocracy or other) are shaped by the sentiments, education and background of their leaders. Mr. Oren runs through not only the leaders of the Middle Eastern countries in each phase, but goes in depth on the up-bringing and cultural leanings of each U.S. President (i.e., most of them) who had influence to bear on the events in the Middle East.
The book is crafted into seven sections, roughly paralleling developments in US History: independence, before the Civil War, during the Civil War, as America becomes a power, WWI, oil and WWII, and a brief skim over the years since WWII. In each section are weaved the three themes of Faith (religeous influences, including Zionist, pro-Arab, anti-Semite, etc.), Power (US ideas of democracy vs. European Imperialism, Soviet Communism, Arab self-rule) and Fantasy (films, impressions).
I enjoyed this book because Mr. Oren presented facts, not judgements, difficult to do in history as you can make the facts say what you want. But he convincingly presents as many perspecitves to each issue as he can.
His last section on the years from WWII to present was brief, but he acknowleded that it would be a fly-by because of so much material and interest that had already been written on the subject.
A long read at 600+ pages, but well worth it. I learned many new things and was reminded of some I had forgotten. Highly recommended.
It took me some time to decide on this book. It was heavy, and was filled with text book style references and cross references. Yet, I decided to give it a try just for one single reason: I immensely enjoyed Oren's previous work: "Six Days of War" and I was sure he wouldn't disappoint his loyal readers. I was right to a large extent.
"Power, Faith and Fantasy" is definitely a unique book. Oren's facts are precise and well researched. The biggest plus of this book is the narration. It keeps you engaged and you would never realize that you are reading a non-fiction historical account.
On the downside, Oren's revelation that the U.S. is solely to blame both for past and present conditions is not totally acceptable to an average person like me who would want to see a real balance.
Nevertheless, "Power, Faith and Fantasy" gets 4.5/5 for the humongous effort of bringing the priceless facts that were scattered across continents in this beautifully narrated masterpiece!
Author of "America Misunderstood: What a Second Bush Victory Meant to the Rest of the World".
For a long time I have wondered about the link between Middle East and America, surely it can not be all hatred? This is an amazing book which is well thoroughly researched. The contribution of Islam goes to the core of the American constitution "all men are equal" a passage from the Quran. If the Muslim could receive America with an open arm after its independence from the British rule, the geopolitics of the world would have been shaped differently. Instead of promoting north African pirates if the Ottoman had a professional navel the Mediterranean would have had a different story to tell. The Arabs blame America as bias towards Israel, it was the ability of the American Jews to broker deals between USA and Middle East that handed the Jews with a powerful influence in American foreign policies. If anything Ottoman arrogance is to blame for much of the double standards that is often the accusation made towards the west. What this book does is explains brilliantly fact that are not known and only now is being revealed to the world What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response An Englishman in Riyadh