Thursday, May 4, 2006

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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 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

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.

posted by Dan on 05.04.06 at 11:11 PM


Too bad really, I was hoping you would pick Stiglitz and Charlton's new book Fair Trade For All . In the book they advocate some forms of protectionism for poor countries against rich countries, while still advocating the opening of trade. They show the essential unfairness of the WTO and the world trading system and propose what seem to be pretty solid solutions.

Considering your specialty, it would be extremely interesting to hear your views on their analysis and proposals.

posted by: joe m. on 05.04.06 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

well, i guess i missed this post, oops:

But anyway, it doesnot see so much like you were reviewing the book, but where reviewing the review. and i don't think Reich did a very good job of reviewing or explaining the book. On a related note, i saw that C-span was having a discussion between thomas friedman an Stiglitz on sunday:

Anyway, the moral of the book (as i read it) was that most trade agreements are not as happy as their names would have you believe and developed countries pretty much want trade for their own sakes, without regard to poor countries (which are often hurt and in no position to negotiate for better terms). Stiglitz obviously knows that trade is a good thing, he just doubts that the deals being negotiated are anything near fair.

and he proposes pretty solid solutions, one being that all countries should agree to open their markets totally to all countries that have a smaller gdp and smaller gdp/capita then themselves. basically he scraps the WTO and proposes an entirely new basis for Doha round. and if you ask me, he is right.

Whether it is possible or likely is another matter. plus, while his proposal seems to be pareto optimal, i am not convinced that scrapping the current agreements would be. either way, it is lucky that stiglitz is out there to defend little countries. his voice has more weight then theirs do.

sorry to steal your post for a book review. i still think you should cover the book though, and read it, because it is a more important issue then whether iran could, at best, get nuclear weapons in 10 or 11 years, and whether the USA should kill them now or later....

posted by: joe m. on 05.04.06 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

I know i am talking to myself here, but i will just add that Friedman is a useless, blathering buffoon who has only one skill: the ability to come up with catch phrases. I just wish he would focus on writing sit-coms or something so people would stop taking that idiot seriously.

posted by: joe m. on 05.04.06 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

represents Appiah's efforts to carve out a commonality for most of mankind that does not rest on nation, clan, or kin

How about a commonality based on devotion to one's children? To raising them in societies that are free, safe and prosperous, in which men and women can earn an honest living without paying off or pandering to the bandits and thugs who dominate a corrupt system based on "nation, clan and kin" in most countries aroudn the world?

posted by: thibaud on 05.04.06 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

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