Daniel W. Drezner

May’s Books of the Month

What with all the hubbub about U.S. relations with particular Middle Eastern countries, I thought it would be appropriate this month to focus on a book that details the bilateral relationship between the United States and one of its oldest allies in the region — Saudi Arabia. Sooooo……. this month’s international relations book is Rachel ...

What with all the hubbub about U.S. relations with particular Middle Eastern countries, I thought it would be appropriate this month to focus on a book that details the bilateral relationship between the United States and one of its oldest allies in the region — Saudi Arabia. Sooooo……. this month’s international relations book is Rachel Bronson’s Thicker than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia. Bonson documents the bilateral relationship from the start of Saudi rule to the present day. Her basic argument is that the bilateral relationship is built on more than oil for security. During the Cold War, the extent to which both the U.S. government and the house of Saud viewed Wahabbist religion as a powerful, positive bulwark against communism is striking. Bronson also ably documents how the Saudi regime with Wahabiism has waxed and waned over the years. The book is an excellent piece of scholarship — I particularly liked this rave at Amazon.com:

I don’t want to repeat what was already said about this remarkable overview of the U.S – Saudi relationship, so let me just steer readers to the footnotes. They are amazing! I rarely read footnotes, but these are so revealing and easy to access that I spent almost as much time with the footnotes as I did with the text. Hats off to the author here! I cannot fathom how she got so many juicy quotes and so much factual material from such a diverse array of people in the know, people who were actually at the meetings she describes. I felt like I was the fly on the wall as policy was debated and decisions made that affected most of the major political issues of the last sixty years. Wow!

In contrast to much that has been written of late about U.S. policy in the Middle East, this is first-rate, well-researched scholarship — from someone who has deftly knocked down conspiracy theories in the past. The general interest book is Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. The book has been excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, among other places, and represents Appiah’s efforts to carve out a commonality for most of mankind that does not rest on nation, clan, or kin. I’m not sure how much I buy Appiah’s argument yet — all I know is that Appiah sold me on the book when he provided the following characterization of the term “globalization”:

a term that once referred to a marketing strategy, and then came to designate a macroeconomic thesis, and now can seem to encompass everything and nothing.

Now that’s the kind of writing that is worth reading. Go check them out.

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