- Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present
Michael Oren contends that most Americans had a limited knowledge of the Middle East until 9/11 and the Iraq War made "the names of Middle Eastern towns such as Faluga and Jenin more familiar than those of their own Midwestern cities." His most recent book not only accounts for this, but introduces a collection of merchants, missionaries, diplomats, and adventurers whose actions, for good or bad, attempted to connect America to the region.
Based on sound and thorough research, well written, and timely, Power, Faith, and Fantasy is an excellent book, and should appeal to several audiences. Useful maps, a time line, well chosen photos, and an extensive bibliography add value to the text.
Depth, however, is the strong point, starting with extensive coverage of interactions between the United States, Morocco, the Barbary States, and the Ottoman Empire during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The reviewer was especially impressed with Oren's account of missionaries and proto-Zionists (both Christian and Jewish). This is important more than simply for a study of faith, but also because these same missionaries, or their children, became America's first Middle East "experts," often finding employment with the Department of State, or corporate entities wishing to interact with local governments.
The story of America and Middle Eastern oil is also well covered, as is the impact of World Wars I and II, plus the "Gordian questions" leading to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Equally interesting, Oren weaves in American culture, from Alhambra to Hidalgo, showing how literature and film created popular notions of the Middle East. The book ends with an examination of the War on Terror and the Invasion of Iraq.
No effort to cover 230+ years of such a complex story will include every detail. For instance, the reviewer would like to have seen coverage of Arthur Millspaugh's first mission to Iran, during the 1920s. Also, minor factual errors sprout up here and there, like making Egypt's Said Pasha (d. 1863), a decisionmaker in 1865; or concerning Howard Baskerville, who was not leading "an Iranian peasant revolt," but rather died fighting for the Constitutionalist forces in 1909.
Such minor quibbles aside, Power, Faith, and Fantasy trumps all previous efforts to describe the history of Americans in the Middle East. Military [End Page 1325] historians looking for the "big picture," will find it a profitable source. This book should also appeal to students of U.S. diplomatic, religious, and business history.