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

In This Review

America’s Dream Palace: Middle East Expertise and the Rise of the National Security State
By Osamah F. Khalil
Harvard University Press, 2016
440 pp.
Purchase

This is the work of a young but mature historian: thoroughly documented, carefully argued, and well crafted. In a detailed look at the nexus of American academic expertise on the Middle East and Washington’s diplomatic and intelligence power centers, from the Wilson era through the Obama presidency, Khalil keeps his prose crisp and his judgments sober. The supply of area experts fluent in local languages and familiar with the region’s populations has never naturally met the demand from the public and private sectors, so the U.S. government has either directly funded area studies or encouraged private foundations to do so. Such interventions began during World War II, and the fight against the Nazis was so compelling that few objected when academics served in the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, which later morphed into the CIA. But as the disaster of the Vietnam War unfolded, area experts warned against academic complicity with U.S. imperialism. It is not clear if the challenge posed by violent jihadism has overcome such concerns, but it has certainly given rise to a new cottage industry in terrorism and counter-insurgency studies.