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America’s Dream Palace:  Middle East Expertise and the Rise of the National Security State

By Osamah F. Khalil, Harvard University, 2016

In T. E. Lawrence’s classic memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence of Arabia claimed that he inspired a “dream palace” of Arab nationalism. What he really inspired, however, was an American idea of the area now called the Middle East that has shaped U.S. interventions over the course of a century, with sometimes tragic consequences. America’s Dream Palace brings into sharp focus the ways U.S. foreign policy has shaped the emergence of expertise concerning this crucial, often turbulent, and misunderstood part of the world.

America’s growing stature as a global power created a need for expert knowledge about different regions. When it came to the Middle East, the U.S. government was initially content to rely on Christian missionaries and Orientalist scholars. After World War II, however, as Washington’s national security establishment required professional expertise in Middle Eastern affairs, it began to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with academic institutions. Newly created programs at Harvard, Princeton, and other universities became integral to Washington’s policymaking in the region. The National Defense Education Act of 1958, which aligned America’s educational goals with Cold War security concerns, proved a boon for Middle Eastern studies.

But charges of anti-Americanism within the academy soon strained this cozy relationship. Federal funding for area studies declined, while independent think tanks with ties to the government flourished. By the time the Bush administration declared its Global War on Terror, Osamah Khalil writes, think tanks that actively pursued agendas aligned with neoconservative goals were the drivers of America’s foreign policy.

 


 

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Edward Morgan Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy, “What I Believe” (1938)

I believe in aristocracy. . . — if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke. I give no examples — it is risky to do that — but the reader may as well consider whether this is the type of person he would like to meet and to be, and whether (going further with me) he would prefer that this type should not be an ascetic one.
I am against asceticism myself. I am with the old Scotsman who wanted less chastity and more delicacy. I do not feel that my aristocrats are a real aristocracy if they thwart their bodies, since bodies are the instruments through which we register and enjoy the world. Still, I do not insist. This is not a major point. It is clearly possible to be sensitive, considerate and plucky and yet be an ascetic too, and if anyone possesses the first three qualities I will let him in! On they go — an invincible army, yet not a victorious one. The aristocrats, the elect, the chosen, the Best People — all the words that describe them are false, and all attempts to organize them fail. Again and again Authority, seeing their value, has tried to net them and to utilize them as the Egyptian Priesthood or the Christian Church or the Chinese Civil Service or the Group Movement, or some other worthy stunt.
But they slip through the net and are gone; when the door is shut, they are no longer in the room; their temple, as one of them remarked, is the holiness of the Heart’s affections, and their kingdom, though they never possess it, is the wide-open world. [full chapter]  

President Abraham Lincoln, Nov 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins) 

I see in the near future a crisis approaching. It unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. The money power preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes.
I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me & the financial institutions at the rear; the latter is my greatest foe. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed.

 

 

 

 

“Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.”
Democratic Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965), speech in Denver, Colo., September 5, 1952  
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. - Mark Twain  
It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end. -Leonardo Da Vinci - The Notebooks
Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. John Milton - Discourse 14, The Areopagitica, 1644 [full]
"Life itself, she thought, as she went upstairs to dress for dinner, was stranger than dreams and far, far more disordered"- Nancy Mitford (Christmas Pudding 1932)
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. - Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, 1770
I repeat ... that all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that, from the people, and for the people, all springs, and all must exist. - Benjamin Disraeli, Vivian Grey, Ch. 7, 1826
The Bible is literature, not dogma - George Santayana, The Ethics of Spinoza, 1910
How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone. - Coco Chanel
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the  difference. - American poet Robert Frost
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. - Oliver Wendell Holmes
Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism. - Hubert Horatio Humphrey
Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. - Noel Langley, spoken by Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz, 1939
Don't be humble. You're not that great. - Golda Meir
Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. - Aldous Huxley                      
And so the Princes fade from earth, scarce seen by souls of men. But tho' obscur'd, this is the form of the Angelic land -
- William Blake (1793) America A Prophecy.                                     
               
  



 

 

 

 

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