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Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present

Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present

4.2 17
by Michael B. Oren

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“Will shape our thinking about America and the Middle East for years.”—Christopher Dickey, Newsweek

Power, Faith, and Fantasytells the remarkable story of America's 230-year relationship with the Middle East. Drawing on a vast range of government documents, personal correspondence, and the memoirs of merchants, missionaries,


“Will shape our thinking about America and the Middle East for years.”—Christopher Dickey, Newsweek

Power, Faith, and Fantasytells the remarkable story of America's 230-year relationship with the Middle East. Drawing on a vast range of government documents, personal correspondence, and the memoirs of merchants, missionaries, and travelers, Michael B. Oren narrates the unknown story of how the United States has interacted with this vibrant and turbulent region.

Editorial Reviews

From today's vantage point, it is easy to assume that America's involvement with the Middle East stems from one of two very 20th-century concerns: our dependence on oil and terrorist threats to our security. However, in this eye-opening survey, Michael Oren (author of the acclaimed Six Days of War) shows that our relationship with the region dates back more than 200 years and has been driven by many other factors, including imperialist strategies, Christian idealism, and the romance of popular culture. Doubly significant for the light it casts on our current political entanglements, Oren's history is an important addition to the literature of foreign policy.
Robert Kagan
Today, the conventional view is that George W. Bush took the United States on a radical departure when he declared a policy to transform the Middle East and that, as soon as he leaves office, U.S. policy will return to an alleged tradition of realism, rooted in the hard-headed pursuit of tangible national interests. This is both bad history and bad prophecy, as Oren shows in Power, Faith, and Fantasy, a series of fascinating and beautifully written stories about individual Americans over the past four centuries and their contact with Middle Eastern cultures.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this engaging if unbalanced survey, the author of the acclaimed Six Days of War finds continuity in U.S. relations with the Middle East from the early 19th-century war against the Barbary pirates to today's Iraq war. As America's power grew, he contends, strategic considerations became complicated by the region's religious significance, especially to the Protestant missionaries whose interests drove U.S. policy in the 19th century and who championed a Jewish state in Palestine long before the Zionist movement took up that cause. Meanwhile, Oren notes, Americans' romantic fantasies about the Muslim world (as expressed in Mideast-themed movies) have repeatedly run aground on stubborn, squalid realities, most recently in the Iraq fiasco. Oren dwells on the pre-WWII era, when U.S.-Mideast relations were of little significance. The postwar period, when these relations were central to world affairs, gets shoehorned into 127 hasty pages, and the emphasis on continuity gives short shrift to the new and crucial role of oil in U.S. policy making. Oren's treatment views this history almost entirely through American eyes; the U.S. comes off as usually well intentioned and idealistic, if often confused and confounded by regional complexities. Oren's is a fluent, comprehensive narrative of two centuries of entanglement, but it's analytically disappointing. Photos. (Jan. 15) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
In this elegant and engaging overview of U.S. involvement in theMiddle East from the Barbary Wars through the current quagmire in Iraq, Oren, an Israeli historian, explores the peculiar blend of "power, faith, and fantasy" that has guided U.S. policy. From the beginning, there was faith that "God's American Israel" would redeem the Holy Land from Muslim infidels and that the modern world's first republic would inspire the peoples of the Middle East to throw off the yoke of Oriental despotism. There was also fantasy embedded in a popular culture shaped by Thousand and One Nights, nineteenth-century travelogues, and Hollywood feature films, all of which presented the region as "a theater of myth." And finally, there was power, which arrived gradually during the twentieth century as the United States emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Oren makes a compelling case that Woodrow Wilson's ambivalent response to Arab and Zionist calls for self-determination after World War I, Harry Truman's swift recognition of Israel three decades later, and every American response to crisis in the Middle East, from Suez in 1956 through the 1967 Six-Day War to the Islamic upheaval in Iran in 1979, were filtered through these lenses.

He concludes with a brisk account of the ongoing "Thirty Years' War" with radical Islam. For Ronald Reagan and his successors, faith in the goodness of the United States' intentions has collided repeatedly with fantasies about a region cursed by exotic peoples and evil leaders. The end of the Cold War raised the specter of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, in which the United States seemed to possess such a preponderance of power that the contradictions between faith and fantasy could be easily resolved by military force. After Osama bin Laden brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11, Washington attempted just such a resolution. Had George W. Bush been able to read this magnificent new book before he launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, however, he might well have realized just how dangerous it has been to shoot first and ask questions later in the Middle East over the past 200 years.<

Library Journal
For more than 230 years, the United States has intertwined itself with the Middle East. Starting in 1776 with the attacks by Barbary pirates on American ships and ending with a discussion of America's current involvement in the region, especially Iraq, Oren (senior fellow, Shalem Ctr.; Six Days of War) does a fine job of showing the circumstances that link our two cultures. As a comprehensive examination of the United States' association with the Middle East, his much-needed book fills a gap in the literature. Oren makes history come alive in the personal stories of famous and not-so-famous Americans and their connection with the Middle East through piracy, slavery, exploration, colonialism, missionary work, diplomacy, political and military issues, culture, tourism, economics, and the extension of such values as democracy and women's rights. This is a wonderfully rich and thought-provoking history, with an extensive bibliography, notes, a chronology, illustrations, and four original maps. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/1/06.]
—Melissa Aho
Kirkus Reviews
American involvement in Middle Eastern affairs is hardly new-and, writes historian Oren (Six Days of War, 2001, etc.), mostly "graced with good intentions."The Middle East-a term, Oren notes, coined by an American admiral a century ago-was a subject of intense interest across the waters in the early days of the Republic, thanks in good measure to the work of Mediterranean privateers who pressed American sailors into slavery. Add to that the natural strangeness of the Arab world, and, writes Oren, for Thomas Jefferson the region was "a bastion of infidel-hating pirates as well as a realm of exotic wonders." Thus it would remain, at least until the piracy problem was attended to. The slavery problem was another matter, and Oren takes up a rewarding theme by examining the uses to which it was put in American abolitionist circles. In decades to come, fast ships would carry Americans across the sea in great numbers. Some made the heart of the Middle East part of the Grand Tour, some made the Holy Land an object of pilgrimage and its inhabitants one of proselytism; and some saw in the region a source of commerce and wealth, even before the discovery of oil. Interestingly, as Oren explores in detail, many travelers of all stripes tended to be anti-imperialist, regarding British designs on the region as a problem, even if Harper's magazine did opine that "Civilization gains whenever any misgoverned country passes under the control of a European race." That proto-neoconservative declaration is one of many parallels that the reader can reasonably draw between then and now. Oren suggests that much American activity in the Middle East, from Red Cross founder Clara Barton's intercession on behalf ofbesieged Armenians to the work of hydrologists and agronomists in making Palestine fertile ground, was benign. When it was not, it had unpleasant consequences, as with the machinations of one anti-Semitic ambassador and the present messy stage of what Oren calls the "thirty years war" following the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran. Of considerable interest in that difficult time: well argued, and full of telling moments.
Washington Post Book World
When a brilliant, lucid historian such as Michael B. Oren . . . brings the past back to life . . . it is a shaft of light in a dark sky.— Robert Kagan
Robert Kagan - Washington Post Book World
“When a brilliant, lucid historian such as Michael B. Oren . . . brings the past back to life . . . it is a shaft of light in a dark sky.”
Max Rodenbeck - New York Times Book Review
“Hugely ambitious, drawing on hundreds of original sources to create a finely balanced overview of this enormously complex subject.”
Douglas Little - Foreign Affairs
“Elegant and engaging.... Had George W. Bush been abled to read this magnificent book before he launched Operation Iraqi Freedom... he might well have realized just how dangerous it has been to shoot first and ask questions later in the Middle East over the past 200 years.”
Henry Kissinger
“A tour de force, brilliantly researched and written, and extremely interesting as well as informative.”
Niall Ferguson
“Michael Oren's deeply researched and brilliantly written history will be a revelation to you.”
Walter Russell Mead
“A landmark achievement.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author

Michael B. Oren, Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center, has written numerous works on the Middle East, including the New York Times bestsellers Six Days of War and Power, Faith, and Fantasy. He has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown universities, and currently serves as Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

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Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a good starting point in gaining understanding of US/Middle East relations. Extremely readable, entertaining, with great descriptive passages that easily transport the reader back in time. I was very excited about the book until I found some factual errors that even a cursory edit should have caught...ie: the founder of the Mormon church was JOSEPH Smith. This makes me have niggling doubts about Oren's other conclusions, but I'll still recommend it as a springboard to other studies. Sylvia Hodges, McAllen,Tx
Guest More than 1 year ago
Written in a style that helps one get through its 600+ pages, this is an excellent survey of America's experience in the Middle East and a good initial read for someone interested in our experience there. Extremely detailed in the pre-WW II period although the postwar period seems a bit rushed. Especially good in its descriptions of the Barbary Wars of the early 1800s, the role of American missionaries in establishing major universities and medical institutions in the Arab World and Truman's postwar struggle with the issue of Israel. The comprehensive bibliography is a superb starting point for futher study. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of this book was diminished by its numerous errors involving minor points that had little to do with its overall theme (e.g. Marlon Brando's name on a list of Hollywood stars in 1940, three years before his first role in a high school play). Although this could be attributed to sloppy fact checking or editing, I still had nagging questions about what else in the book might be inaccurate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At first glance, this book may seem like a tome of historical facts. But read the first few pages, and it becomes evident that it is more than just history. Rather, this book reads like a story its storyteller is a renowned historian whose attention to facts and details is, unfortunately, unique. In addition, it teaches (and reteaches) American history, Middle Eastern history, and world history. It is a reminder that every historical detail is related to something else and does not happen in a vacuum events and their consequences change the course of history forever. This book is a necessary read for everyone--skeptics, scholars, and the general public alike. It is time to see history in a balanced and factual light. This book provides that necessary perspective.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A meticulously researched and brilliantly narrated book, Oren's work puts America's involvement in the Middle East in its historical context, providing a much-needed perspective at a time when this involvement is at its height. If we are to truly understand the origins of this complex and unique involvement, 'Power, Faith, and Fantasy' is a must read. Writing with the factual precision of a historian and the flair of a novelist, Oren delivers an impressive account that spans over 230 years of American history. This is a compelling, informative, and indispensable read from a critically acclaimed historian.
merchiebum More than 1 year ago
Well written and well researched; should be required reading by all State Department personnel and White House staff.
RomeoRomeo More than 1 year ago
Fabulous and well written. Kept my interest all the way.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A brilliant history of American relations in the MidEast. A necessary reference book, and a nice one to put on your bookshelf, for all students, policy-makers, and curious cats. Well-written, superbly-researched, and accurately portrayed, this book is an instant classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book, which finally clarifies why we are now in this mess. Just as Europe chose to pay off the bandits in the 1700s, they chose to do the same today. Excellent book. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oren uses an interesting technique of looking at US-middle east relations through small biographies of various individuals who were personally involved in historical events. The problem with this technique is that many claims are often exaggerated, at times false, which damages the overall reliability of the historical account he provides. The scope of this book was certainly ambitious, and I was excited to read it, but the factual inconsistencies and poor editing (for which I do not blame the author), made my experience with this book frustrating. I would recommend looking elsewhere for a more reliable historical account.
Guest More than 1 year ago
So many of his 'facts' are pure fiction. The reference he makes to the Rev. George Bush, who wrote the book The Valley of Vision (among other works), being a forebear of our current President George Walker Bush and his father George Herbert Walker Bush is pure fiction! And include in his misstated 'facts' this one: John Smith founded the Mormon faith. Not true again! It was in actual fact Joseph Smith, Jr. It makes the reader question all of his so-called 'facts'. This work should be placed on the shelves in the fiction section. It is poorly researched and, although written with the voice of authority, it is not even close to being factually accurate!