Monday, May 14, 2012

America and the Middle East

For about a month now I've been reading Michael Oren's Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present.  The first half or so of the book is quite illuminating regarding the first almost 150 years of America and its dealings with the 'Barbary States,' and with the old Ottoman Empire.  Maybe I'll write about some of that, too, but right now I want to share part of what I read last night.

From page 527:  The 1967 war, the reverberations of which continue to convulse the region, was a primary juncture in the making of the modern Middle East.  Arab nationalism, a largely secular ideology, suffered a set-back from which it would never recover and which accelerated the rise of its rival, Islamic extremism.  Zionism was conversely reinforced by Israel's victory and, through the Jewish people's reunion with their spiritual homeland in Jerusalem and the West Bank, galvanized by a new religious zealotry.  The war was also pivotal for America's relations with the region.  For the millions of evangelical Americans who had always valued Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies, the Six-Day War was an act of divine intervention designed to hasten the coming of the messianic age.  But the victory also persuaded American policymakers, many of whom had previously advised against maintaining close relations with the Jewish state, to view Israel as America's small but muscular cohort in the Cold War.

Is he overstating the importance of that war?  Yes and no?  His first conclusion is that it was a death blow to Arab nationalism.  How?  Egypt and Syria got their asses handed to them so radical Islam was born?  Sentiment in other Middle Eastern countries that would have found expression in nationalist movements was turned instead to radical Islam?  The people would rather punish the Jews and/or seek to eradicate the State of Israel than seize the reins of political power in their own countries?  I don't know, eventually all of those countries broke away from colonial rule and some of them have declared the obliteration of Israel to be their number one goal.  Is this really a 'radical Islam' issue or more of an ethnic enmity issue.  "We hate them because they exist!  And besides, they hate us!" 

I think he's onto something with his final conclusion though.  Once Israel kicked some ass and the U.S. could have them as an ally rather than a client state it was "welcome aboard"!     

I'm just up to the part, tonight, where he's about to tear into Carter (I think) over Iran.  I'll be back ...


  1. One of these days I hope - We will discover that the United States is not connected at the hip to the state of Israel.
    But, with the thumper right gaining in power; that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.


    1. The author does a good job, Sarge, of explaining the genesis of that connection. Part of the whole American Exceptionalism, City on a Hill line of thought.

  2. Interesting Kev.
    I think if your book looks closely at Carter on this subject he will get a lot of good marks overall. Iran and Carter will always mean crashed helicopters, but that was one event, I am not sure it was what ended his chances at 8 years though. Before that he probably came the closest of any president in finding a solution to the Palestinian problems.

    1. Oren gives credit for the Camp David accords but points out that neither side lived up to their full responsibilities under the agreement.

      Oren's main criticism of Carter in the Middle East is that he put too much emphasis on 'faith' and not enough on 'power.' Of course he also shows the Nixon/Kissinger period to be nothing but power politics and their handling of the Middle East fizzled by virtue of having to take a back seat to other cold war considerations.