Imagining the Middle East: The Building of an American Foreign Policy, 1918-1967

Article excerpt

Imagining the Middle East: The Building of an American Foreign Policy, 1918-1967. By Matthew F. Jacobs. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xiii, 318. $39.95.)

In the aftermath of September 11, the quest to understand the Middle East has become an American "national obsession," in which experts and pundits alike are trying to make sense of a region and its people, whose history, character, and religion have long been viewed as the mysterious other. Matthew F. Jacobs argues that the discursive "contours" of our debate today evolved between the end of World War I and the late 1960s, when an "informal transnational network of professional specialists" from academia, the business world, government, and the media tried to "imagine" and interpret the complexities of the Middle East to American audiences (239, 6). Drawing heavily on the language of postmodernism, Jacobs attempts to "understand the intellectual environment within which debates about the nature and direction of U.S.-Middle East relations took place" (10). Though his methodological approach is useful in outlining the "contours" of the debate, his "informal transnational network" proves too loose, too informal, and too short-lived to provide a cohesive model for understanding the construction of American foreign policy toward the Middle East.

Jacobs explains that the period from 1918 until World War II lacked policy specialists and primarily consisted of Orientalists with a focus on the ancient Near East or experts of Protestant missionary background, who were imbued with a desire "to transform the Orient in both sacred and secular terms" (15). Although these influences continued to inform later network specialists, Jacobs, by his own admission, acknowledges that there were "no clear guidelines for determining membership" (6). The individuals themselves never spoke of such a network; some did not even know each other, and others passionately disagreed with one another.

It was only during World War II that the focus would shift to the contemporary Middle East, and not until the Cold War that an attempt at the "institutionalization of knowledge" took place with "the creation of the academic field of Middle Eastern Studies, the expansion of U. …