Sunday, March 15, 2009

Khalidi's New Book and Old Story

Rashid Khalidi has a new book out. SOWING CRISIS: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East.

I learned this about it from James Traub in the NYTimes and I added my comments in italics:

...Khalidi, who holds the Edward Said chair of Arab studies at Columbia and is a major pro-Palestinian voice in American scholarship, [and that is an understatement] argues that Washington’s drive for hegemonic control over the geostrategic and oil-rich axis of the Middle East stretches back three-quarters of a century, and has continued unabated to this day. [and Columbus, I hope he knows, discovered America. this a scholar is?]

Khalidi’s central argument is that the Bush administration’s interventionist posture toward the Middle East is no mere post-9/11 aberration, but represents an especially bellicose expression of a longstanding campaign...just as the threat of Communism was wildly exaggerated 50 years ago, so, these days, “the global war on terror is in practice an American war in the Middle East against a largely imaginary set of enemies.” [imaginary?!]

Most histories of America’s role in the Middle East, like Michael B. Oren’s Power, Faith and Fantasy,” focus on the naïveté and misguided idealism of a nation much given to moral crusades. Khalidi ­looks to interests rather than principles. His ­story of America’s active role in the Middle East begins in 1933, when the consortium known as Aramco signed an exclusive oil deal with Ibn Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia.

[well, I hope he read this from four years ago and this as well:

According to some sources, King Ibn Saud was interested in a plan for a Jewish state that was formulated by his adviser and confidante, British archeologist and diplomat Harry St. John Philby (father of cold war spy Kim Philby). This plan was put to Chaim Weizmann and other Zionist leaders. Eventually the US administration became interested. At the beginning of July 1943, US Secretary of State Cordell Hull gave Colonel Henry Hoskins (not Harry Hopkins, as stated in some accounts) a directive from Roosevelt ordering him to proceed to Saudi Arabia to ascertain whether Ibn Saud "would enter into discussions with Dr. Chaim Weizmann or other representatives selected by the Jewish Agency for the purpose of seeking a solution of basic problems affecting Palestine acceptable to both Arabs and Jews?"

Hoskins met King Abdul Aziz on Aug. 14, 1943, but according to Hoskins, Saud rebuffed the Philby plan and what he claimed was Weizmann's proposal to bribe him. Later, Roosevelt met Saud in February 1945. On board the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake of the Suez canal, President Roosevelt tried to persuade Saud to acquiesce to a plan for Jewish emigration to Palestine, but Saud was adamant in his opposition. One week before his death, in a letter dated April 5, 1945, Roosevelt promised King Saud that he, as president of the United States, would take no hostile action against the Arabs and that the United States would not change its basic policy toward the Palestine issue without prior consultations with both Arabs and Jews. (and see the letter there)
] it true, as Khalidi al­leges, that President Truman favored Israel, and ultimately agreed to recognize the country, because he had more pro-­Jewish than Arab voters to answer to? Only by check­ing a footnote does the reader learn that this comment, which Khalidi quotes twice, comes from an American diplomat who may not have been in the room when Truman is said to have uttered it. [ah. scholarship]

But the most pressing question “Sowing Crisis raises is not whether American behavior in the Middle East has been consistently self-serving and expansionist. It is whether Arab failure is, at bottom, a consequence of that behavior. [that is an interesting point to be pursued]

and he ends off:

Since Khalidi inadvertently caused Barack Obama some grief during the presidential campaign when it came out that Obama attended a party in 2003 for a man some Republicans called a “ter­rorist professor,”the president is un­likely to dis­play this book in public. But he ­should read it, not so much to chasten his sunny view of our recent past in the Middle East as to be reminded how very hard it is to make progress in a region where memories are long, and practically everything is blamed on the United States (or Israel).

But, before we go, let's take just another look at that Ibn Saud-Roosevelt conversation:

Ibn Saud traced the Arab title to Palestine back to the Canaanites, from whom the Jews took the country. He flatly called the Canaanites "arab" because they came from the Arabian Peninsula. A critic pointed out that the Jews may have come from there, too, although Ibn Saud would scarcely call them "Arab." Nor would scholars check Ibn Saud's calculation that the Jews had ruled Palestine for less than four centuries. Westerners who added up Ibn Saud's own disputable figures got 627 years; the King got 380.

Ibn Saud's letter included an indictment of Joshua as a war criminal. His version of what happened at the siege of Jericho differed from standard Biblical texts. Ibn Saud had Joshua commanding: "Burn ye all that is in the city and slay with the edge of the sword both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep, and burn the city with fire and all that is therein."

My source? Time Magazine, October 1945

and from here:

The king—from whose country Jews had been expunged during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad twelve centuries earlier—said that "the Arabs and the Jews could never cooperate, neither in Palestine nor in any other country. His majesty called attention to the increasing threat to the existence of the Arabs and the crisis which has resulted from continued Jewish immigration and the purchase of land by the Jews. His Majesty further stated that the Arabs would choose to die rather than yield their land to the Jews." The public record contains no indication that the king saw any contradiction between his belief that the Arabs of Palestine would rather die than give up their land and the fact that some of those same Arabs were selling their lands to Jewish buyers.

Charles E. Bohlen, a prominent American diplomat who was a member of Roosevelt's official party, wrote in his memoirs that the king also raised another point about Palestine that is not mentioned in Eddy's account or the joint memorandum. "Ibn Saud
gave a long dissertation on the basic attitude of Arabs toward the Jews," Bohlen wrote in "Witness to History." "He denied that there had ever been any conflict between the two branches of the Semitic race in the Middle East. What changed the whole picture was the immigration from Eastern Europe of people who were technically and culturally on a higher level than the Arabs. As a result, King Ibn Saud said, the
Arabs had greater difficulty in surviving economically.

The fact that these energetic Europeans were Jewish was not the cause of the trouble, he said; it was their superior skills and culture."


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