Sunday, January 21, 2007

Kagan reviews Oren on America in the Middle East

Today's Washington Post book review section leads off with a review by Robert Kagan of Michael B. Oren's new book, POWER, FAITH, AND FANTASY: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present. Kagan begins:
We often hear that Americans know little about other nations; a bigger problem is that we know too little about ourselves, our history and our national character. When it comes to U.S. foreign policy, in particular, we were all born yesterday, unaware of how present policies and attitudes fit into persistent historical patterns. So when a brilliant, lucid historian such as Michael B. Oren does bring the past back to life for us, revealing both what has changed and what has stayed the same, it is a shaft of light in a dark sky.
I guess he likes the book. Kagan continues:
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.
A theme of the review is that realism has never been the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, placing the Bush Administration in a trajectory of more idealist efforts to save the region from "barbaric" Islam, from the Founders onward. This is, of course, consistent with Kagan's own work, most recently his book, Dangerous Nation.

For the full review, click here. (Registration required, but it's free, and they don't spam you.)