Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite

Free Press

  • $23.18
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  • Publish Date: 1995-07-01
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Robert D. Kaplan


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Here is the untold story of an inbred, gifted, and powerful elite of families and friends who dominated America's relations with the Middle East for over a century. Known to Foreign Service colleagues as the Arabists, these were the men and women who had spent much of their lives, usually with their families, living in the Arab world as diplomats, military attaches, intelligence agents, and educators. Descended from the missionaries, scholars, and explorers who first ventured into the region - an offshoot of the WASP elite that ruled America during the nineteenth century - the Arabists were an exclusive caste linked by complex social, institutional, and family ties. Thoroughly at home in Arab cultures and often enjoying relations of longstanding intimacy with the monarchs and ruling elites of Arab countries, these American expatriates lived a charmed lifestyle that has become a source of intense nostalgia among the Arabists themselves as well as a symbol of their romance with Arab culture and increasing isolation from American society and interests. The Arabists dominated American policy and shaped our perception of the Arab world throughout the colonial and interwar periods. But after World War II, the diplomatic corps began to change, reflecting the country's new ethnic and social diversity. Kaplan describes the impact of this change within the State Department, showing how the advent of Irish Catholics, Jews, and Harvard-trained regional experts created internal pressures that slowly loosened the Arabists' grip on Middle East diplomacy in the postwar period. Drawing on interviews, memoirs, and other official and private sources, Kaplan reconstructs the hundred-year history of theArabist elite, and traces their decline against the background of this social transformation.


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