In 1893, the University of Wisconsin historian Frederick Jackson Turner traveled to the Chicago world’s fair to deliver the most famous paper in the annals of the US historical profession. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” turned “the fact of conquest” into the myth of pioneers settling “free” lands that nurtured and sustained the nation’s uniquely democratic character. [1] We read it today as a brilliant defense of empire, arguing the case for continued expansion by showing how America’s core values were threatened by the “closing” of the western frontier. These ideas became part of the common sense of the era as the US extended its domain over a widening system of protectorates and dependencies — the Philippines, the Canal Zone and the Caribbean — in the early twentieth century and self-styled pioneers — missionaries, adventurers, concession hunters, prostitutes, teachers and engineers — settled in the hinterlands of the world economy.

I thought of Turner as I landed in Dhahran, a place founded in the 1930s by a massive firm that had ventured from California to search for oil on the coast of the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia. Like the nineteenth-century settlers who propelled the expansion westward, capital pushed the empire’s boundaries forward and the American state followed. Where leaders of local states secured recognition of their sovereignty claims after World War I, empire rested politically, if more tenuously, on gunboat diplomacy, intervention and covert action. The record of American oilmen and CIA agents in Damascus jointly “buying” politicians and coup plotters in the 1940s is a prime example. [2]

The era of empire — when Western powers conquered territories, when companies transformed countries in the process of controlling raw materials and could call out the gunboats to protect imperial privilege — is over for the US in the Gulf. This lesson was driven home for me by studying the role American firms and foundations once played in building the Saudi state. The overseas Arabian oil resource frontier is closed because that state has secured overarching control inside this zone. In comparison to the past, Americans now have little direct impact on the landscape and daily lives of the inhabitants of the Dammam-Khobar-Dhahran metropolis and its hinterlands. Oil rents insulate the society from the indignities of foreign exploitation and free Saudis to exploit others, often cruelly.

This new reality in the Gulf and elsewhere in the old peripheries of empire is reflected in the decade-old or more conversation about the contours of a post-imperial world economy, after hegemony. [3] The emphasis on the power of the American state and leading sectors to shape global production, finance, security and information “structures” in which all other people, states and firms must operate in effect revises long-standing notions about how one understands and where one looks to demonstrate and contest the nature of “dominance” and “control” in an unequal world order. [4] The best thinkers in this tradition are careful to specify how and why hegemony is anything but a synonym for empire and, more crucially, omnipotence. The debate increasingly turns on the nature of the limits to this kind of global scale, institution-shaping American power in the face of capitalist rivals, competing models of capitalism, counter-systemic movements and domestic economic decline in core industrial sectors and regions. [5]

The relatively recent rise of these ideas inside the more privileged quarters of the Anglo-American academic left and the rapid diffusion of terms like hegemony into the vocabulary of dissent since the time of the 1990-1991 Gulf war makes a short tour of what for a brief moment was America’s Kingdom worthwhile. During the teach-ins and demonstrations at the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and US counter-intervention, there was little attempt to explain the meaning of the term hegemony or distinguish it from older and discredited propositions about neo-imperialism, neo-colonialism and dependency. [6] Public dissent in the US in fact revealed the remarkable resilience of populist themes against “big oil” and “the interests,” conspiracy (the war was for George Bush’s sons’ profits), along with classic anti-imperialist positions. Within anti-war circles, it was possible to dismiss the fate of “a bunch of rich Kuwaitis” given the overarching need to oppose “the objective interests of imperialism.” Today, the assumption is often that America’s military presence guarantees control or domination of Saudi Arabia, its oil, its rulers and its intelligence services.

Readers should not let the return of the US Air Force to Dhahran obscure the significant and enduring shift in the geography and culture of power in the Peninsula. There is little truth in construing this moment as a sign of American ascendancy in the Gulf or harbinger of some new form of colonialism. Those days are long gone. [7] A weak and vulnerable King Sa‘ud had little difficulty in closing down the US Strategic Air Command base in the 1960s. There will be little cost when the much stronger king-in-waiting ‘Abdallah sends the US Central Command back to Florida.

The general thrust of this argument is strengthened if we consider the kingdom’s enduring security dilemma, shared with many states that gained independence after 1945: The al Sa‘ud is manifestly unable to secure its kingdom’s continued existence within the existing state system. [8] During World War I, the future King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz sought absorption of his domains into the British empire as a protectorate by treaty. His sons have not yet escaped the dilemma that binds their fate to the vicissitudes of American power and the world economy. Yet, no analysis of “the special relationship” has demonstrated any particular way in which Saudi dependency on the US seriously constrains the regime, much less facilitates control or domination of it. [9] As I discuss below, the Saudis continue to invest in those regions of the US political economy such as the Gun Belt that have a great deal at stake in keeping alive the idea that security of access to the kingdom’s oil is vital to US prosperity. The idea secured the Saudis support against Egyptian expansionism in the 1950s and gains them an added margin of protection today against the imperial dreams of Baghdad and Tehran. The power of this particular idea, in the hands of the Bush administration’s opponents, was the threat at the heart of the political calculations that led to the return of US forces in Dhahran in 1990 and a war against Iraq.

The Ghosts of American Camp

The Air Saudia flight approached Dhahran from the water, banking sharply above the causeway that links the Eastern Province to Bahrain. During the drive from the airport, I began to match the landscape before me to the one drawn from extant records of life and work on the early 1940s and 1950s oil frontier, which centered on the fenced-in Aramco company enclave then known as “American camp.” Recent retirees and the handful of third-generation Aramco-Americans (“Aramcons”) still working in the Eastern Province continue to refer to the sprawling expatriate housing complex and administrative offices of the state-owned oil enterprise, Saudi Aramco, as “camp.” Thus, unaware, they draw on a tradition going back more than a century to the mining communities founded on the trans-Colorado border lands, the original model for Dhahran.

It is in the world oil frontier of the Eastern Province where the American empire was made manifest. Oilmen and managers exported a system of race and caste segregation to its zone of operations in Dhahran and the satellite settlements and pipeline stations. These were institutions and norms of separate and unequal rights and privileges, of crude racism and progressive paternalism (“racial uplift”). [10] In going to Dhahran I harbored the slim hope of adding to the archive I have been collecting of the migrant workers, Arab nationalists, communists and tribesmen who mounted the demonstrations and strikes that began the process of overturning Jim Crow in the Eastern Province.

The keepers of the official history of the Saudi-American partnership today appear zealous about preserving the myths of the oil frontier intact. The American embassy in Riyadh recently celebrated the golden anniversary of the special relationship, dating back to the 1945 meeting between ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and Franklin Roosevelt on a US destroyer in the middle of the Suez Canal. The Saudi embassy in Washington has mounted twin enlargements of the Life magazine photo of the meeting, lit from behind, on the wall of its in-house theater. Kneeling between the two frail but noble chiefs is Col. William Eddy, the Sidon-born and Princeton-bred missionaries’ son who translated for the king and FDR.

A dissident history, pieced together from other relics of the period, casts images of the old days in different light, beginning with Eddy, who is remembered as one of Saudi Arabia’s best friends in America, and the “only official who actually resigned” from the Truman administration in protest of its Palestine policy. [11] The reality is that Eddy joined the CIA using the cover of Aramco “adviser” in Dhahran and Beirut in the 1940s and 1950s. More important, his own secret reporting to Washington on the famous Saudi workers’ strike of 1953 contrasted the “primitive land of low pay, slaves, eunuchs and harems to the comfortable conditions of US residents in Dhahran.” [12]

Decades later, Saudi Aramco’s public relations staff continues to censor material that even hints at the racial discrimination and other forms of injustice that workers once faced in the Eastern Province. The reasons are clearly spelled out in the archives: The country’s own labor policies are vulnerable to similar criticisms. [13] In private, officials with the firm recalled for me the period when they still had to drink from fountains in American camp, designated for Saudis only. Others complained that, given the way Americans once treated Saudis, the kingdom’s labor policies receive far too much scrutiny.

The transformations in the oil market in the 1970s associated with OPEC are well known. Western multinationals gave up their control of the producing companies like Aramco, which is now owned by the Saudi state, along with the phenomenal oil rents produced by the price rises of past decades. These changes in tum altered many dimensions of the US-Saudi relationship if not the global position of the US “hegemon.” Even those dissenting theorists like Bromley, who caution against exaggerating the extent of decline of American power in the world economy, recognize these shifts. Firms lost the capacity to call out the gunboats to protect them from expropriation, and geostrategists lost the means for direct control of the region‘s resources. From Nixon on, American administrations have confronted the reality of sharply reduced leverage over Saudi rulers. [14]

The story of the dismantling of the Jim Crow system in Dhahran is part of the same era of momentous change in the world economy, the equivalent of decolonization in the Saudi case, which was effectively completed with the “transfer of (Aramco’s) power” to the al Sa‘ud and its agents. [15] Nonetheless, the story has no place in the kingdom’s public history today. The many Saudis and migrant laborers who built the oil industry and transformed the landscape are invisible to visitors of Dhahran’s new interactive “Saudi Aramco Exhibit.” There are no photos of the king’s visit to Aramco when he was besieged by protesting workers, or of the first Saudi oil minister, ‘Abdallah Tariki, Aramco’s greatest foe whose alliance with the Venezuelans paved the way for OPEC, or of the wild pro-Nasser demonstrations in Dammam, or of the posters of ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim that circulated throughout the Shi‘a community on the heels of the 1958 Iraqi revolution.

‘Uthman, a businessman and intellectual in his forties, knew of my interest in the social history of the Eastern Province. He worked for Aramco in the 1960s and 1970s, and was, together with a large cohort of Saudi technocrats, the beneficiary of the labor struggles that led the Americans to begin serious education and training programs for Saudis, which is a key part of Jim Crow’s end. His account of the contours of the post-frontier political economy echo Turner’s influential ideas about “sections” in America.

The Eastern Province’s oil resources continue to be drained by the rulers of the kingdom’s dominant, central region, Najd. The east’s large (40 percent) Shi‘a minority, whom American officials describe as “second class citizens” in Saudi Arabia, pay the combined price of the weak oil market, tense relations with Iraq and Iran, and a dictatorship that is brutally crude and direct about exacting compliance. Forthright about the opportunities accorded him by Aramco’s late affirmative action policies (“Saudization”) that made it relatively easy for his generation to tolerate waning American prejudices, ‘Uthman saw corruption and parochialism on the rise in the oil sector, and a decline in the education system that the Americans had eventually built to protect their investment.

A View From Riyadh

The authority of Najd, underpinned by oil rents, is thus secure. Incorporation of the once independent state of Hijaz on the west coast came at the expense of the tribes and townspeople of the east. In marked contrast, however, to other ex-frontier zones and colonies, the landscape of the Eastern Province today has little in common with the Canal Zone, the Philippines and other places where Americans can still act like colonialists on the beaches and in the nightclubs, brothels and AID missions.

In Riyadh, US representatives work in a fortress on the city’s outskirts, in a quarter reserved for embassies. The arms dealers, bankers, brokers and ex-CIA agents turned consultants who represent US investors in the kingdom lease homes and live in compounds scattered across the sprawling metropolis. A handful have lived there long enough to be able to chart the capital’s remarkable expansion, decade by decade, shopping mall by shopping mall. For most Americans, however, a sense of history barely exists.

“Saudi Arabia is a society in transition.” This cliche was offered up by a senior embassy official to explain current opposition to the regime. “King Fahd is laying the foundations of a modem economy,” he said, against the resistance of an “atavistic culture.” Thus, a piece of vintage 1950s modernization theory was dusted off once again by someone who seemed unaware that dozens of his predecessors had the same to say about Kings ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and Sa‘ud in the 1950s, Faysal in the 1960s and Khalid in the 1970s, with the transition never complete. It might have been worse, with the nonsense about “eastern cultures” dragged out, as Gen. Binford Peay III, head of the US Central Command, did recently to explain the failure of security in Dhahran: “Saudis…have a different sense of time.” [16]

American embassy analysts are, predictably, much better at deflating the ideological pretensions of the Fahd regime than at recognizing their own, as was clear in their accounts of rising unemployment among the kingdom’s twenty-something generation. This new cohort is growing resentful after 13 post oil-boom years of chronic budget deficits and the undiminished rapaciousness of the multitude of princes. The king’s proposed solution is to turn Saudi Arabia’s welfare state into a workfare economy. The government says it looks to private investors to create jobs, following the old Aramco example, for the large numbers of unemployed graduates described by American officials as “products of a closed, rigid and torpid education system.” As a result, no rational business enterprise will pay to hire them. The kingdom is far from the point where its subjects will be driven once more to accept work in the areas where jobs are plentiful and growing, as domestics, taxi drivers and the like.

The kingdom does subsidize jobs: in the US, through the $60 billion in US weapons and support services ordered by the house of Sa‘ud between 1990 and 1995. [17] For the region known as the Gun Belt, the Persian Gulf represents a critical market at a time of crisis in the arms industry. These enormous orders mean more than just jobs and therefore votes for politicians or a way to cushion the pain while the Clinton administration oversees the consolidation of the new weapons and aerospace mega-firms such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing-McDonnell Douglas. [18] Sales to Saudi Arabia and other foreign clients have kept whole production lines running — for example, the M-1 tank — which lowers the price of equipment the Pentagon needs for its worldwide forces.

American officials are candid about the weapons themselves being useless for the kingdom’s defense. The expatriates who sell Saudis planes and tanks by the shipload say the same thing. “The Saudis can’t use and don’t need what they buy,” one executive in Riyadh said during dinner, delivering the punchline with pinpoint accuracy; “Ours are the exception, of course.” Defense industry people anchor the US business community in Riyadh today, flanked by the transnational banks and services and technology exporters such as AT&T, General Electric and Bechtel. Princes and other entrepreneurs benefit as middlemen and brokers in these deals. Meanwhile the opposition grumbles and opposition watchers in Washington wring their hands about the crisis looming on the horizon when the regime is forced to choose between guns and butter.

Fighting the Next Oil War

Led by Exxon and Chevron, the old owners of the Aramco oil concession remain fixtures of the Saudi oil and petrochemicals sectors, competing for licensing and management deals. It is a far cry, however, from the 1940s and 1950s when Aramco was in effect the kingdom’s public works agency and oil ministry and America’s private diplomatic and intelligence operation rolled into one. An American ambassador once described the firm as “an octopus whose tentacles have extended into almost every domain and phase of the economic life of Saudi Arabia.” [19] Back then, it was also relatively easy to see through the private interests behind the sudden discovery of a strategic interest in Middle East oil, an idea that some US officials apparently came to believe in as they managed the transfer of millions in rents to Aramco’s owners. [20] Decades later, it is virtually impossible to find dissent from this common sense view that US security and prosperity are inextricably bound up with access to the Gulf’s oil resources. The Pentagon for one is deeply invested in defense of this interpretation of the national interest as part of its own post-Cold War survival strategy. The proposition that markets can be relied on to supply the industrial sectors of the West with their energy needs at reasonable costs, without the need for troops, is a serious threat to its interests. US forces instead remain in place in the Gulf to wage the continuing war against Iraq, deter other hypothetical invaders looming over the horizon, and not least, secure the defense budget.

In the wake of the Riyadh and Khobar Towers bombings, the instincts of the commanders in the Gulf is to draw in the wagons: lauding American commitments and sacrifices, grumbling about their Saudi partners, and blustering about what they will do when they finally find the enemy. [21] Military officials reportedly want to dig in, “planning for a 20-to-50-year deployment in the Gulf,” according to a Senate delegation that traveled to the kingdom in January. [22] But opposition to the hundreds of millions of dollars that the US military is spending on hundreds of daily sorties this year is not confined to groups inside the kingdom, as can be seen for instance in a recent Foreign Affairs article and in the mounting criticism inside Congress. [23]

Trail of Tears

Today’s accounts of American dominance and hegemony of the Gulf and the wider Middle East, at best, leave to others the hard work of clarifying the meaning of these terms, demonstrating their consequences, testing these assumptions and specifying their limitations. At worst, in the zeal to advance the opposition project, they can distort reality as fully and as recklessly as any of the ideas of those intellectuals of statecraft who Chomsky exposes to withering criticism. [24] Thus, Saudi arms purchases after the Gulf war may be miscast as proof of the continuing economic returns to American control. [25] Nonetheless, the royal family invests in military industries from Baltimore to Seattle to shore up support for its interests and shape outcomes in Washington. The fissures that continue to divide sectors and regions in the US over how to define and pursue their conflicting regional and global interests create the space for the Saudis’ leverage, but they also create problems for those who imagine the presence of the Americans in the Gulf today as the fulfillment of long pent-up desires. [26] The exercise of power and privilege, too, looks less formidable on the ground than we might imagine given a recently achieved “total American hegemony over the Middle East.” [27]

On my last day in Riyadh I met four bored and frustrated mechanics from Chicago wandering the halls of the Riyadh Sheraton. They service the armored cars that are now de rigueur in American diplomatic posts on a more or less permanent world tour, from the White House on to Athens, Cairo, the Gulf, Manila. The new “borderless” world that excites New York Times editors, software companies and university presidents makes little sense to the armored car crew or to the US troops encamped in al-Kharj and Escon Village outside Riyadh. The military forces in the Gulf are a constant reminder that the PaxAmericana remains open to continuous challenge and reversal. Behind the hyperbole of Desert Storm’s technological wizardry are the exposes of billions paid for unreliable weapons systems, the rusting hulk of the Nixon Doctrine and failed covert actions to overthrow Saddam Hussein. [28]

The beginnings of the special relationship with Saudi Arabia and America’s late expansionist project in the Middle East date to the pre-World War II era. This was a time when oil had not yet become synonymous with national security and the White House worked overtime to finesse use of public funds to subsidize the US investors that held the vast concession in the eastern province of al-Hasa. Then it was conventional inside American intellectual circles to argue — against the facts of territorial conquest, the naked brutalization of peoples, the control of local resources and the denial of nations’ sovereign rights — that America did not have an empire.

Decades later, the metaphors of dominion, dependency and imperialism no longer seem to make sense of the role played by American firms or state agencies in Saudi Arabia or in the world economy more generally. I may be wrong. “Globalization” may mean ordinary Saudis are misled about their real interests while the ruling family serves its “master” in the North. Shopping malls in al-Khobar could possibly represent a new, more potent and insidious form of neo-colonial domination and control. More likely, we will be left to deal with the powerful exceptionalist myth at the heart of many radical accounts of America standing outside history: an empire that never ends. [29]

Author’s Note I traveled to Saudi Arabia in December 1996 as a Malone Fellow, a program lavishly subsidized by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce in Riyadh and arranged by the National Council on US-Arab Relations. It is hardly necessary to stress that the views expressed here are generally not those of the sponsoring organizations. A condition of the Malone program is that all official meetings are off the record and so sources of all quotations must remain unidentified. But my long and instructive conversations with two friends and colleagues on the trip, Ibrahim Abu Robi and Elizabeth Fernea, are freely and pleasurably acknowledged. In addition, Sheila Carapico, Eleanor Doumato, Greg Gause, Ellis Goldberg, Lisa Hajjar, Gwenn Okruhlik, Roger Owen, Joe Stork, Peter Trubowitz and Lisa Wedeen have helped with some of the ideas, even when they disagreed with them.


[1] Richard White, “Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill,” p. 1, and Patricia Nelson Limerick, “The Adventures of the Frontier in the Twentieth Century,” p. 75, in James R. Grossman, ed., The Frontier in American Culture: Essays by Richard White and Patricia Nelson Limerick (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994). For general treatments of American social history and the widening compass of empire, see Nell Painter, Standing at Armageddon: A History of the United States, 1877-1919 (New York: Norton, 1987); and Walter LaFeber, The American Search for Opportunity, 1865-1913 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
[2] See Douglas Little, “Pipeline Politics: America, TAPLINE and the Arabs,” Business History Review 64 (Summer 1990), pp.269, 278-279.
[3] See, for example, Robert Cox, “Critical Political Economy,” in Bjorn Hettne, ed., International Political Economy: Understanding Global Disorder (London: Zed Press, 1995); David Becker, Jeffry Frieden, Sayre P. Schatz and Richard Sklar, Postimperialism: International Capitalism and Development in the Late Twentieth Century (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1987); and Immanuel Wallerstein, After Liberalism (New York: Free Press, 1995).
[4] See Susan Strange, States and Markets, second edition (London: Pinter, 1994 [1988]).
[5] Strange, pp. 237-243; Wallerstein, pp. 176-206; Hettne, pp. 10-21.
[6] See Robert Vitalis, “The End of Third Worldism in Egypt Studies,” Arab Studies Journal 4/1 (Spring 1996).
[7] Joe Stork makes the limits of US power in the Gulf today quite clear in his “Dinosaur in the Tar Pit: The US and the Middle East After the Gulf War,” in Phyllis Bennis and Michel Moushabeck, eds., Altered States (New York: Interlink, 1993), pp. 227-238.
[8] Robert H. Jackson, Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
[9] Stork argues the opposite: The regime has turned “Saudi dependence on the US into an asset.” “Dinosaur,” p. 229. While he dates the bargain to the 1960s and early 1970s, I think it goes back much further. Earlier rulers ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and Sa‘ud did not have the cushion of oil rents to make it work for them as well. For assessments similar to Stork’s and mine, see Fred Halliday, “A Curious and Close Liaison: Saudi Arabia’s Relations with the United States,” in Tim Niblock, ed., State, Society and Economy in Saudi Arabia (London: Croom Helm, 1982), and F. Gregory Gause III, Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1994).
[10] For details and documentation of these points see my “Aramco World: Business and Culture on the Late American Frontier,” in Karen Merrill, ed., Business, Enterprise and Culture, vol. 2 (Braepols, forthcoming).
[11] On Eddy, see William Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 196.
[12] For Eddy’s report see Department of State Instruction, NoCA — 3364, Dec. 29, 1953, “Comment on the October-November 1953 Strike at the Arabian American Oil Company Installations in Saudi Arabia;” p. 6, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, 886A.062112-2953, [hereafter RG59, with filing information] National Archives, Washington, DC.
[13] For the censoring of historical materials see Bill Tracy to William Mulligan, Jan. 13, 1992, Box 8, Folder 8, William Mulligan Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.
[14] Simon Bromley, American Hegemony and World Oil: The Industry, the State System and the World Economy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), pp. 205-244, which is the source of the quotations in this paragraph; see as well George Philip, The Political Economy of International Oil (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994); and Jeffry A. Frieden, “Oil and the Evolution of US Policy Towards the Developing Areas, 1900-1950: An Essay in Interpretation,” in R. W. Ferrier and A. Fursenko, eds., Oil in the World Economy (London: Routledge, 1989).
[15] For those unfamiliar with these ideas as part of the historiography of colonialism, begin with William Roger Louis and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Decolonization,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 22/3 (1994).
[16] Quoted by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) in Federal News Service, July 10, 1996, Hearings of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Middle East Terrorism, Chaired by Senator Arlen Specter, questioning of Walt Cutler, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, electronic copy.
[17] Figure from Charles J. Hanley, “Strategy Built in Sand,” Austin American-Statesman, April 27, 1997.
[18] See, for example, Steven Pearlstein and John Mintz, “Too Big to Fly?” Washington Post, May 4, 1997; FDCH Political Transcripts, April 15, 1997, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Acquisition and Technology, Hearing on Trends in the Industrial Base Supporting National Defense, April 15, 1997; “A Couple of Senators Fight to Derail Pentagon Scams,” National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 1996; Rocky Mountain News, May 27, 1996; Tanya Bielski, “F-15 Foreign Sales Help McDonnell Douglas to Record Earnings,” Defense Daily, April 20, 1995, p. 93; and Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 1995.
[19] See the comments of J. Rives Childs contained in “Jidda to State,” March 11, 1947, RG 59, 711.90F/3-1147.
[20] For the Saudi case, see David Painter, Oil and the American Century: The Political Economy of US Foreign Oil Policy, 1941-1954 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); for the relations among firms, state officials and the ideology of national interest more generally at the time, see Gregory Nowell, Mercantile States and the World Oil Cartel, 1900-1939 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994).
[21] See Sen. John Kerry’s opening statement, Hearings of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Middle East Terrorism. “Someone is making war upon us…. Now we Americans know something about making war…. So while we review the situation in Dhahran…we should also be seeking means to go on the offensive, seeking ways to attack this new enemy and destroy his ability to make war on us.”
[22] Chattanooga Times, March 31, 1997.
[23] Graham Fuller and Ian O. Lesser, “Persian Gulf Myths,” Foreign Affairs (May/June 1997); Chattanooga Times, March 31, 1997.
[24] On the importance of Chomsky’s project and a trenchant critique of his ideas see Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, “Knowledge, Morality and Hope: The Social Thought of Noam Chomsky,” New Left Review (May 1991). Those who seek to emulate his style would do well to review the 30-year-old arguments about the tendency inside the then new left to critique official ideologies of the US state and then go on to construct a mirror image of its world order: one evil empire (allegedly more hypocritical than other states in history) and its clients against all those whose real preferences and interests at critical junctures like the Gulf war are transparent from, say, their speeches at the United Nations.
[25] See, for example, Michel Moushabeck and Phyllis Bennis, “Looking North: The New Challenge to the South” p. xvii, in Altered States.
[26] “Since 1973 the United States has wanted a physical presence in the Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein became the perfect target and the best excuse to move in.” Edward Said, “Thoughts on a War: Ignorant Armies Clash by Night” in Phyllis Bennis and Michel Moushabeck, Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1991), p. 1. For the errors in these kinds of anthropomorphic reading through the most rigorous accounting to date of the sectional conflicts and interests behind what “the US” needs and desires, see Peter Trubowitz, Defining the National Interest (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).
[27] Naseer Aruri, “On Beinin’s Review,” Middle East Report 203 (Spring 1997), recapitulating the major claims of his book The Obstruction of Peace. The original review and publication details are in Middle East Report 201 (Fall 1996).
[28] Theodore Draper, “Is the CIA Necessary,” New York Review of Books, August 14, 1997.
[29] “The sources of myth-making lie in our capacity to make and use metaphors, by which we attempt to interpret a new and surprising experience or phenomenon by noting its resemblance to some remembered thing or happening. If the metaphor proves apt, we will be inclined to treat the new phenomenon as a recurrence of the old…. If the match is disappointing, we will be forced to choose between denying the importance of the new experience and revising our symbolic vocabulary,” Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), pp. 6-7.

How to cite this article:

Robert Vitalis "The Closing of the Arabian Frontier and the Future of Saudi-American Relations," Middle East Report 204 (Fall 1997).

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