From the first cannonballs fired by American warships at North African pirates to the conquest of Falluja by the Marines--from the early American explorers who probed the sources of the Nile to the diplomats who strove for Arab-Israeli peace--the United States has been dramatically involved in the Middle East. For well over two centuries, American statesmen, merchants, and missionaries, both men and women, have had a profound impact on the shaping of this crucial region. Yet their story has never been told until now. Drawing on thousands of government documents and personal letters, featuring original maps and over sixty photographs, this book reconstructs the diverse and remarkable ways in which Americans have interacted with this alluring yet often hostile land stretching from Morocco to Iran, from the Persian Gulf to the Bosporus.--From publisher description.Includes information on Adams colony, Afghanistan, Algiers, Muhammad Ali, al Qaeda, Anatolia, Arabism, Arab Israeli conflict, Arab nationalism, Arab Revolt, Yasser Arafat, Armenia, Bahrain, William Bainbridge, Balfour Declaration, Barbary States, Barbary Wars, David Ben-Gurion, Osama bin Laden, Louis Brandeis, Bulgaria, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Charles Chaille-Long, Winston Churchill, U.S. Civil War, Bill Clinton, Cold War, U.S. Congress, Charles Crane, Jefferson Davis, Stephen Decatur, U.S. Democratic Party, David F. Dorr, William Eaton, Egypt, Egypt Civil War, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Bethune English, Pliny Fisk, France, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Golan Heights, Ulysses S. Grant, Great Britain, Greece, Gulf War of 1991, Haganah, Hassan (Dey of Algiers), Theodore Herzl, Hizbollah (Party of God), Hollywood, Holocaust, Edward Mandell House, Saddam Hussein, ibn Saud (Abd al-Aziz King of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Iraq War, Islam, Ismaʾil (Khedive of Egypt, Israel, Italy, Andrew Jackson, Japan, Thomas Jefferson, Jerusalem, Jewish national home concept, Jews, Jordan, John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Kuwait, Robert Lansing, League of nations, Lebanon, John Ledyard, Libya, Abraham Lincoln, William Wing Loring, William Francis Lynch, James Madison, Alfred Thayer Mahan, manifest destiny, Maronites, U.S. Mediterranean Squadron, Golda Meir, Herman Melville, Mesopotamia, Mexico, missionaries, missionary movement, Henry Morgenthau, Morocco, Muhammad Mossadegh, Gamal Abdul Nasser, U.S. Navy, New York Times (newspaper), Richard M. Nixon, oil, oil industry,Ottoman Empire, Palestine, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Levi Parsons, Persia, USS Philadelphia (frigate), David Porter, Protestantism, Muammar Qadhafi, Yusuf Qaramanli (Pasha of Tripoli), Quran (Koran), Yitzhak Rabin, Ahmad Ben Muhammad al Raisuli, Ronald Reagan, restorationism, U.S. Republican Party, Robert college, Edward Robinson, Franklin d. Roosevelt, Imperial Russia, Anwar Sadat, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Senate, September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, William Henry Seward, William Tecumseh Sherman, Six Day War, Sixth Fleet, slavery, slave trade, Soviet Union, U.S. State Department, Suez Canal, Syria, terrorism, A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Operation Torch, Tripoli, Harry S. Truman, Tunis, Turkey, Mark Twain, United Nations, United States Ottoman relations, Vietnam War, Wahhabism, U.S. War Department, War of 1812, chaim Weizman, West Bank, William Westermann, White Paper, Woodrow Wilson, Worldʾs Columbian Exposition of 1893, World War I, World War II, Yom Kippur War, Zion, Zionists, etc.
The history of religious zeal informing our policies toward the Middle East is especially intriguing. It has always been assumed that Zionism was the main driving force. Oren contends that, on the contrary, a much stronger role has been played by the concept of Restorationism, the belief held by evangelical Protestants that “by expediting the fulfillment of God’s promises to repatriate the Jews to their homeland, Christians could re-create the conditions of Jewish sovereignty that existed in Jesus’ time and so set the stage for his reappearance.” Oren tells stories about the lives of American missionaries in the Middle East and points to “the emergence of missionary dynasties capable of exerting far-reaching influence over America’s foreign relations” since leading wealthy missionary families occupied the same social circles as the country’s political elite:
"Through their personal connections with decision makers, the missionaries and their backers could place evangelism and its advocates at the head of America’s overseas priorities, particularly in the Middle East.”
The joy over this empowerment, Oren wryly notes, was not shared by the region’s rulers.
In a rather amusing subplot to the story, Oren recounts how missionary after missionary tried to get Jews to become farmers in Palestine, so as to better approximate the conditions of the land when Jesus was there. The Jews, however, could not be less interested. It was not until the increase in pogroms in Russia in the late 1800’s that the Jews began en masse to see appeal in a safe haven, and then, even farming looked good.
Some other memorable anecdotes: Sol Bloom, impresario of the Algerian Village at the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893, sitting by a piano and making up (but not copyrighting) "a minor-key ditty...later replayed by countless cartoon snake charmers" to accompany the gyrations of Little Egypt; Mark Twain touring Europe, surprised to find himself the victim of antisemitism when the Viennese press dubbed him "Der Jude Mark Twain" (after observing that he had a large nose); and FDR meeting Ibn Saud in the Suez Canal aboard The Quincy - Roosevelt, paralyzed, dying, ashen and weak, and Ibn Saud "scarcely less ill" having to be winched onto the Quincy because he couldn't make it up the gangplank.
Evaluation: I don’t think anyone can come away from this rather long (six-hundred pages) but rewarding history without having learned a great number of fascinating details about our history in the Middle East. Highly recommended.
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.