In T. E. Lawrence’s classic memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence of Arabia claimed that he inspired a “dream palace” of Arab nationalism. What he really inspired, however, was an American idea of the area now called the Middle East that has shaped U.S. interventions over the course of a century, with sometimes tragic consequences. America’s Dream Palace brings into sharp focus the ways U.S. foreign policy has shaped the emergence of expertise concerning this crucial, often turbulent, and misunderstood part of the world.
America’s growing stature as a global power created a need for expert knowledge about different regions. When it came to the Middle East, the U.S. government was initially content to rely on Christian missionaries and Orientalist scholars. After World War II, however, as Washington’s national security establishment required professional expertise in Middle Eastern affairs, it began to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with academic institutions. Newly created programs at Harvard, Princeton, and other universities became integral to Washington’s policymaking in the region. The National Defense Education Act of 1958, which aligned America’s educational goals with Cold War security concerns, proved a boon for Middle Eastern studies.
But charges of anti-Americanism within the academy soon strained this cozy relationship. Federal funding for area studies declined, while independent think tanks with ties to the government flourished. By the time the Bush administration declared its Global War on Terror, Osamah Khalil writes, think tanks that actively pursued agendas aligned with neoconservative goals were the drivers of America’s foreign policy.
America’s Dream Palace offers a wide-ranging exploration of the complex relationship between the knowledge that Americans have produced about the Middle East and the exercise of American power in the region, from the First World War down to the invasion of Iraq. Well-researched and engagingly written, it should be of interest to scholars and nonscholars alike.
America’s Dream Palace is a brilliant and meticulously researched work. Khalil carefully documents how scholars’ production of knowledge about the Middle East shaped, and was shaped by, the rise of America as a twentieth-century global military power. This is a vital contribution to our understanding of Middle East studies and to our understanding of the political economy of knowledge production.
Thoroughly documented, carefully argued, and well crafted. In a detailed look at the nexus of American academic expertise on the Middle East and Washington’s diplomatic and intelligence power centers, from the Wilson era through the Obama presidency, Khalil keeps his prose crisp and his judgments sober.
Khalil provides a trove of new data, especially about the pre–Cold War and post-2001 eras, [but] his interest isn’t so much the history of ideas as the institutional career of Middle East studies in America. He’s particularly good at piecing together scattered archival evidence to reveal previously hidden patronage relationships between area specialists and government agencies such as the State Department and the CIA. And by quoting one undeniably prejudiced statement after another, he demonstrates the Orientalism of successive generations of Middle East experts to devastating overall effect.
In this timely study, Khalil provides a thorough analysis of how U.S. foreign policy interests have driven the development of American specialist knowledge about the Middle East from WWI to today…Khalil demonstrates how American analysis of the Middle East has been, and continues to be, tainted with the ideology of American exceptionalism and orientalist notions of the region’s political and cultural immaturities and deformities, even today.
Well-researched and containing a breadth of sources, America’s Dream Palace provides the reader an in-depth treatment of the history of Middle Eastern Studies in the U.S.
Khalil’s America’s Dream Palace is a well-researched study of the evolution of knowledge about the Middle East over the course of a century…[An] excellent study of an unusual aspect of the Cold War as it relates to the Middle East…[It] constitute[s] required reading for the student of the Middle East and the layman interested in the region alike.
[Khalil’s] extensive use of archival sources, sharp prose, bold assertions and arguments makes America’s Dream Palace a timely and unique addition to the emerging scholarship on the U.S. and the Middle East during the Cold War and beyond.
- 440 pages
- 1-3/8 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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