The United States and the Middle East, 1945–2001
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0182
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0182
The period covered in this bibliographic essay begins with the end of the Second World War when the United States became much more actively involved in the Middle East than ever before due to the region’s geopolitical significance, the strategic and economic importance of oil to the global economy, and the issue of Jewish Holocaust survivors and whether to permit them to enter Palestine. It concludes with the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks on American soil, which most analysts agree was a watershed event. Historians and other analysts who have written about this period sometimes present strikingly different interpretations of important developments so that the discipline of Middle East studies is fundamentally divided. Part of the schism can be traced to the Cold War and contesting views related to the global strategy of the United States and how this impinged on the Middle East. Likewise, the issue of America’s role in the Arab–Israeli dispute—and the question of Palestine in particular—has grown to become a fundamental fault line that separates those who study and write about the matter. As the United States has become more involved in the region, the result has been an intensification of the debate. Another important issue that has arisen is the role that the countries, leaders, and people of the region have had in events, and whether they have been merely the pawns of the great powers or were instead agents of their own fates. All this is complicated by the problem of obtaining primary sources from all the parties involved in events. Partly this has to do the many languages spoken in the region, but more fundamentally it has to do with the difficulty of gaining access to documents that still impinge on national security or that governments may find inconvenient, embarrassing, or even outright incriminating. Indeed, the role that the Soviet Union had through much of the period in question is still one that must be inferred and for which we lack archival documents. In the final analysis, one who approaches such a contested subject as the history of US–Middle East relations would be well advised to recall St. Thomas Aquinas’s dictum, “hominem unius libri timeo,” and beware the man of one book.
There are several broad surveys that focus on the history of United States relations with the Middle East. The most accessible for undergraduate students is Brands 1993, while Hahn 2005 has the virtue (and vice) of its conciseness. Lenczowski 1990 is organized chronologically and considers Middle East policy under a host of presidential administrations. Broadest in its scope is Oren 2011, which examines the entirety of the American experience in the region from an Israeli vantage point. Lesch and Hass 2013 also offers a deep historical context as the authors begin their narrative with the First World War and give their readers the perspectives of a historian and a social scientist. Takeyh and Simon 2016 offers a generally sympathetic view of Washington’s Middle East policies at least up to the sea change that came with 9/11 and George W. Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Most critical in their treatment of US policy are Khalidi 2010, which imparts an Arab–Palestinian interpretation, and Wawro 2014, which faults Washington in its pursuit of oil and support of Israel. The essays in Little 2008 similarly are unsympathetic with many of Washington’s policies and deeds.
Brands, H. W. Into the Labyrinth: The United States and the Middle East, 1945–1993. Chapel Hill, NC: McGraw-Hill, 1993.
While this survey’s scope stops with the conclusion of the George H. W. Bush administration, it has the virtue of being relatively short but sufficiently in depth to cover sufficient details and nuances to make it an excellent textbook. It is strongest in its treatment of the period through the mid-1970s.
Hahn, Peter L. Crisis and Crossfire: The United States and the Middle East since 1945. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005.
This very concise history is objective and comprehensive in its scope. If used in the classroom, it works best when supplemented by primary sources and more focused journal articles.
Khalidi, Rashid. Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East. Boston: Beacon, 2010.
Written by a Palestinian-American who is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, this treatment of the history of US–Middle East relations advances the view that many of the problems of the region can be traced to superpower rivalry. While critical of both the United States and Soviet Union, Khalidi censure focuses especially on Washington’s policies.
Lenczowski, George. American Presidents and the Middle East. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990.
Written by one of the doyens of the study of US–Middle East relations, this relatively brief history examines the period from the presidency of Harry Truman through that of Ronald Reagan. Lenczowski’s dispassionate treatment of his subject and his deep knowledge of the subject matter make this work a worthwhile read.
Lesch, David W., and Mark L. Hass. The Middle East and the United States: History, Politics, and Ideologies. 5th ed. New York: Routledge, 2013.
Broad in its scope—from the First World War through the Arab Spring—and scholarly in its treatment of its subject matter, this enduring volume is valuable not only for academics and policymakers but also undergraduates. Its authors are a historian and a specialist in international relations, and the book benefits from the perspectives of these two disciplines.
Little, Douglas. American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
This collection of essays brings a critical perspective to the topics the author addresses. Little especially emphasizes American “orientalism” and what he understands as the cultural misperceptions that are applied to Islam. He traces many of the problems the United States faces in the Middle East to its preoccupation with the Cold War, desire to maintain access to oil, and its support of Israel.
Oren, Michael. Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present. New York: Norton, 2011.
This impressive and well-written work by a historian who became the Israeli ambassador to the United States has an impressive scope beginning in the early days of the American Republic and concluding in the contemporary period. It is well researched and is noteworthy for its treatment of America’s encounter with the Middle East before it emerged as a world power after the First World War.
Takeyh, Ray, and Steven Simon. The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East. New York: Norton, 2016.
While concentrating on the period from 1945 to 1991, the authors have one eye on the unstable region that emerged after 9/11 and the threats to global security that arise from the Middle East today. Takeyh, a noted Iran scholar, and Simon, a member of President Obama’s National Security Council, present a sympathetic treatment of Washington’s policies in the period and give credit to the realist approach used by American leaders.
Wawro, Geoffrey. Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.
The author of this work is a well-known military historian who is principally known for his scholarship of the Prussian army. Wawro has written a provocative and often censorious account of the history of US involvement in the Middle East that sees Saudi Arabia and Israel as the twin centerpieces of American policy.
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