Saturday, April 17, 2010

Israel & America II

As noted yesterday, this relationship is crucial for many reasons, and the history America has had with the Middle East, around which our relationship with Israel turns, is admirably captured in this magnificent book by Michael Oren—the new Israeli Ambassador to the United States appointed by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009—Power, Faith, Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present.

A good review—from 2007—is from Commentary Magazine.

An excerpt.

“Although the writing of history comes in infinite hues, these are mixed from two primary colors, since the historian, in getting us to understand what happened long ago, can ultimately do it in only one of two ways: by appealing either to the past’s resemblance to the present or else to its contrast with it.

“Michael Oren, the author of the best-selling Six Days of War, a chronicle of the 1967 Israeli-Arab hostilities, has now written a history of American involvement in the Middle East that is emphatically about resemblance. From the earliest days of American independence, Oren’s new book tells us, the United States had to formulate a Middle East policy—and its considerations in doing so, making allowances for the passage of over two centuries since then, were not very different from those that are at work in our own age.

“The first two-thirds of Oren’s book examine an extended period—from the Revolutionary War to America’s entry into World War I—in which the Middle East is not generally thought of as having been much of an American concern. True, every American child learns (or at least did when I went to school) about the Barbary pirates, and who doesn’t know the anthem of the Marine Corps that begins, “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”? But just as even most well-educated Americans would be hard-pressed to explain where the halls of Montezuma were or what the Marines were doing in them, so they would be stumped if asked why American forces were fighting in Libya in the days of Thomas Jefferson, or what was so barbarous about the Barbary Coast. (The answer is: plenty, but that’s not where the name came from; it derived from its inhabitants, the North African Berbers.) Such things seem far removed today from the main currents of American history, let alone from the war in Iraq or the battle against al Qaeda.

“Oren seeks to show that they are not. Indeed, he maintains, the question of how America should deal with naval marauders operating in the service of various North African chieftains in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was not only a major issue at the time. It was also paradigmatic of the ways in which the United States was to react to later encounters with the Arab world and to the threats posed by it to American interests and security.”