three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
user_rating: 
0

America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present

A-Power, Faith, and FantasyFor most Americans, the Middle East has always been—and, Michael B. Oren suggests, will always remain—shrouded in mystery. Oren takes a close look at the great contradictions of America’s historical involvement in the Middle East and argues that only the players have changed over time. Different themes emerge: America’s pursuit of diplomatic, military, and economic interests; American Protestant missionaries’ desire to return Palestine to the Jews; America’s attempt to transform the region into a liberal democracy; and the negative stereotypes of the region perpetuated by literature. Many fascinating characters weigh in: Ambassador Lew Wallace, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, General William Tecumseh Sherman, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and James Baker, among others. Keeping one eye on the past, Power, Faith, and Fantasy provides a timely historical perspective on change, motivation, and the centuries-old issues that persist to this day between America and the Middle East.
Norton. 778 pages. $35. ISBN: 0393058260

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"Even at more than 700 pages, the book leaves a reader wanting more. And because the detailed text reads so fluidly, all of that information is palatable, and much of it is downright gripping." Steve Weinberg

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Michael Oren offers a sweeping chronicle of America’s Middle Eastern policies and perceptions, arguing that the lands of the Ottoman Empire—before its dissolution and after—have long loomed large to Washington and to the wider American populace, helping to define America’s sense of itself and its role in the world. … Mr. Oren’s skillful narrative shows that America’s bond with Israel is as intrinsic, as axiomatic, as its bond with England." Martin Peretz

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"A series of fascinating and beautifully written stories about individual Americans over the past four centuries and their contact with Middle Eastern cultures. … Many today may want to disagree [with the author], but they will have to wrestle first with the long history of American behavior that Oren has so luminously portrayed." Robert Kagan

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Oren] illuminates [his analysis] with a parade of colorful characters: commanders and explorers, missionaries and settlers, creators and consumers of fantasy, from the tales of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights to the musical Kismet." Michael Kenney

Baltimore Sun 2 of 5 Stars
"Power, Faith and Fantasy is virtually silent about American cultural imperialism, economic exploitation, arms trafficking and assistance to reactionary regimes. … Even more problematic is Oren’s addiction to facile historical analogies." Glenn C. Altschuler

Critical Summary

Michael B. Oren, recently a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale and currently a senior fellow in the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, wrote Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002) to critical acclaim. Oren, who emigrated to Israel in 1979 and later became a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces, draws on his experience to present a valuable, fascinating overview of American involvement in the region and to bring to life the many historical characters profiled here. Although a few reviewers commented that Oren’s strength lies in storytelling rather than grand theory, the author manages to avoid simplifying complex historical and political issues. In the end, he suggests: "By responsibly wielding its strength and consistently upholding its principles, the United States might yet transform its vision of peaceful, fruitful relation with the Middle East from fantasy into reality." While many hope that Oren’s prediction may come true, the book shows less of his predictive powers than his ability to cogently summarize the past.