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January 31, 2015 / 11 Shevat, 5775
 
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America’s Mideast Involvement Long Preceded ‘Israel Lobby’


Going forward to the 20th century, Oren illustrates that the crucial roles of Presidents Woodrow Wilson in backing the Balfour Declaration and Harry Truman in giving the newborn State of Israel recognition were not the result of political calculation but decisions that were based on the deeply held beliefs of these leaders.

The idea of Israel is something that has always been part of the sensibilities of American religious thinking. No lobby could possibly create the broad support for Israel that has run, and still runs, across the spectrum of mainstream America, powered by both faith and secular democratic values.

Oren shows that the contrary thesis that rejects Zionism also has deep roots in the tradition of Protestant missionaries. Those Americans came to the Middle East seeking converts, but wound up founding institutions, such as the American Universities in Cairo and Beirut, that inculcated the spirit of American democracy and nationalism in generations of Arab intellectuals.

Thus it was, ironically, Americans who founded Arab nationalism. That means the notion of spreading democracy to the region wasn’t invented by George W. Bush or the “neocons” but rather by the intellectual (and in some cases actual) ancestors of the 20th century Arabists in the State Department.

The late Edward Said’s thesis that saw all Western views of the region as inherently racist “Orientalism” dominates the academy these days and helps spread the idea that American power is a force for evil abroad. But Oren’s research stands as a conclusive reproof to this fallacy.

While it will be no surprise if many in the Middle-East studies establishment attack this book, Oren’s achievement is must-reading for policymakers and the general public alike. In an era in which global terror based in the Middle East is the primary challenge to the survival of democracy, Power Faith and Fantasy ought to be read and understood by as many Americans as possible.

About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.


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