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Oren interview, continued

"Oren interview, continued" Continued...

OREN: Wilson and Truman assisted the Zionist movement out of a faith-based attachment to the Jews and their aspirations for statehood in their ancestral, Biblical, homeland. Jimmy Carter, whose recent book reveals a far more equivocal if not hostile attitude toward the Jewish state, is very much an exception. American presidents had such "grand thoughts" because the United States in the nineteenth-century emerged as the preeminent Western power in the Middle East, endowed with the ability to make draw borders and remake the region's map.

WORLD: On the other hand, you report Truman's anger when his State Department "pulled the rug out from under him." Has the State Department over many decades tended to tilt in a pro-Arab way?

OREN: In 1813 the State Department inaugurated the tradition of appointing American Jews, many of them German-born, as diplomats to the Middle East. The practice reflected the rather quaint assumption that American Jews represented a natural bridge between predominantly Christian America and the Muslim Middle East. The tradition continued to the 1920s, when the descendants of the missionaries, many of whom had grown up in the Middle East and spoke its languages, replaced American Jewish diplomats.

These statesmen were deeply identified with Arab nationalism-and commensurately opposed to Zionism. Moreover, while there was only one diplomatic posting to Israel, there were twenty-one in the Arab world. Numerically, those diplomats well-disposed to Israel were grossly outnumbered. The exclusion of Jews from the State Department ended in 1973, the year that another German-born American Jew, Henry Kissinger, assumed the reins of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The State Department's pro-Arab proclivity has nevertheless continued.

WORLD: Why were US leaders during the 1980s and 1990s "reluctant to acknowledge the hatred of their culture seething in Saudi Arabia or the willingness of Saudi authorities to deflect radical Islamic criticism of their own profligacy onto the United States"?

OREN: The reason is simple: oil. In the decades after World War II, the American economy and much of the American way of life became dependent on Arabian oil. Acknowledging that the Saudis were funding virulently anti-American curricula in schools throughout the Muslim world-a program that spurred fifteen Saudis to hijack American planes on 9/11-was immensely difficult. Only by admitting the connection between oil and terrorism, and by exploring alternative sources of energy, can the United States ultimately protect its citizens from persistent threats from the Middle East.


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