Michael Oren: 5 best books about the Middle East are ...





1. "An Algerine Spy in Pennsylvania" by Peter Markoe (1787)....

2. "Sufferings in Africa" by James Riley (1817)....


3. "The Valley of Vision" by George Bush (1847).

The Puritans viewed themselves as the New Israel and America as the New Promised Land. Accordingly they felt a sense of kinship with the Old Israel--the Jews--and the old Promised Land, then known as Palestine, a part of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the Puritans' descendants regarded it as their Christian and American duty to help restore the Jews to Palestine. "I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation," wrote President John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln acknowledged that "restoring the Jews to their national home in Palestine . . . is a noble dream and one shared by many Americans." But few restorationists were more outspoken than George Bush, a distinguished professor of Hebrew at New York University. His "The Valley of Vision," which became an antebellum best seller, called on the U.S. government to militarily wrench Palestine from the Turks and return it to the Jews. The Jewish state "will blaze in notoriety . . . and flash a splendid demonstration," declared Bush, a direct forebear of two presidents of the same name, revealing the centuries-old roots of American support for Israel.

4. "The Innocents Abroad" by Mark Twain (1869)....


5. "The Arabists" by Robert D. Kaplan (The Free Press, 1993).

From 1813, with the appointment of Mordechai Emanuel Noah as U.S. consul for Tunis in north Africa, until World War I, American Jews served as U.S. diplomats in the region. The State Department believed that these Jews, though most of them German-born, formed a natural bridge between Christian America and the Muslim world. But beginning in the 1920s--as Robert D. Kaplan charts in his riveting "The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite"--Jews were gradually pushed out of the State Department, replaced by a generation of diplomats who encouraged Arab nationalism and who were unabashed in their anti-Zionist, indeed anti-Semitic, worldview. Deeply identifying with Arab autocrats, the Arabists served as the architects of the U.S.-Saudi alliance, represented oil interests in Washington and convinced politicians that the Middle East had far more to fear from America than vice versa. Though their monopoly began to dissolve in the 1970s--when another German-born American Jew, Henry Kissinger, assumed control of policy making in the Middle East--the Arabists continued to exert a disproportionate and generally deleterious influence in Washington. Kaplan's book, published in the aftermath of the first Islamist attack on the World Trade Center, acquired a greater poignancy after the second. Above all, it exposed the danger of the Arabists' illusions of a romantic, congenial Middle East.



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