Reprinted with permission from

Commentary May 2006

and conservatism from above rather than from within. His real concern was with the broader question of how to preserve the constitutional polities within which alone such distinctions are meaningful. His pathbreaking return to ancient thought, which his enemies mistake for proof of his antagonism to modern liberty, was, as Smith shows, precisely the opposite.

Strauss understood that the dynamic of modern thought itself had left liberal democracies stranded and bereft, stripped of intellectual support as ever more “advanced” theoretical outlooks favored an ever more radical politics. He would go anywhere in search of allies to defend the political achievements of the West—and he found them among the ancient philosophers, with their

New Perspectives on History


irony, prudence, and moderation. As Smith writes, Strauss “regarded the freedom of an educated mind as the best antidote to the pathologies of modern mass politics.” By opposing the complacent supposition that the wisdom of our own day had rendered obsolete the wisdom of past epochs, Leo Strauss challenged every vested interest in the modern academic world, and he paid the price in hostility and scorn. It would be a shame to compound that injustice by embroiling him in today’s political controversies, a fact that Steven Smith recognizes even as he himself does just that.

America in White, Black, and Gray
A History of the Stormy 1960s
Klaus Fischer
“This is an extraordinarybook for two reasons, which are connected. One is the uniqueperspective of its author. The other, to some extent a consequence of the former, is the result: an importantcontribution to recent American history that ought not be ignored by historians and that ought to be read by many Americans for the sake of their enlightenment.”

Holy Warriors? Thicker than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia
by Rachel Bronson
Oxford. 368 pp. $28.00

Jacob Heilbrunn
hen President WUnion address thatBushU.S. declared in his recent State of the the is
dangerously “addicted to oil” from unstable countries, Saudi Arabian o cials were indignant. Saudi ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal met the next day with national security adviser Stephen Hadley, who assured him that the President had not really meant what he said. It was yet another sign that, despite 9/11 and the stream of Saudi militants who even now are entering Iraq’s Sunni triangle, the Bush administration is largely adhering to the decades-old American policy of coddling the sheikhs who sit atop the world’s largest oil reserves.

Reviewed by

—John Lukacs
K l a u s F i s c h e ris the Nazi acclaimed author of Germany: A New History The History of an and Obsession . HC | 446pp | $29.95 0-8264-1816-3
The Continuum International Publishing Group Available at all ne bookstores Or call 1-800-561-7704

Jacob Heilbrunn
Washington, D.C.

is a writer in


Books in Review

In Thicker than Oil, Rachel Bronson, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, offers a probing examination of the tangled history of U.S.-Saudi relations. An assiduous researcher, she expertly chronicles the actions of both sides from the 1940’s down to the present. Oil naturally plays a prominent role in Bronson’s story, but, more surprisingly, so too do anti-Communism and a shared religiosity, which she sees as key factors in solidifying U.S.-Saudi ties. The result is an informative and wide-ranging account, if not a fully persuasive one.

viet Union. Not only did he invite the Americans to train Saudi forces, but he also granted them access to a military airstrip on the country’s eastern shore, providing the U.S. with a base of operations in the region while also furnishing his nearby oil fields with a defensive shield. With the rise of Egypt’s Gamel Abdel Nasser, cold-war politics again intervened. At first, President

Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles thought they might cozy up to the Egyptian leader, especially after siding with him against France and Britain during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. Soon enough, however, Nasser was denouncing the West and hailing the Soviet Union as a great liberating force for the third world. For help in the region, the U.S. had little choice

As Bronson shows, the U.S.-Saudi relationship has never been quite as smooth as diplomats on both sides like to pretend. The legend of the great friendship between the two nations began with the famous 1945 meeting between King Abdul Aziz and Franklin D. Roosevelt on board the USS Quincy, anchored in the Great Bitter Lake north of the Suez Canal. (To this day, she notes, the U.S. embassy in Riyadh occasionally trots out for display a glassenclosed replica of the ship.) Returning home from Yalta, Roosevelt pursued two aims with the Saudi monarch. With the war still being waged in the Pacific, he was eager to ensure uninterrupted oil supplies to American troops. In addition, he hoped to persuade Aziz to avert conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. It was the first of a long line of presidential entreaties that would go nowhere: Aziz told Roosevelt that the U.S. should try to resettle the Jews in Europe. If Roosevelt initiated the relationship, Harry S. Truman brought it to fruition. To the horror of most of his advisers, who warned that he might destroy our relations with the Arab states, Truman insisted on recognizing Israeli independence in 1948. The Saudis were indeed upset, but they swallowed their anger—in large part, Bronson argues, because of Aziz’s fierce opposition to the So-






Jerome Karabel
winner of the National Jewish Book Award
“The Chosen is beautifully written, and brilliantly researched, and will forever change the way Americans understand elite education.” —Malcolm Gladwell

Houghton Mifflin

Distinguished publishing since 1832

Commentary May 2006

but to turn to Aziz’s successor, the feckless and corrupt King Saud. As Bronson writes, Eisenhower left his successor, John F. Kennedy, with “a Middle East mess.” American delusions about the region persisted. Kennedy initially thought that, given enough good will and blandishments, he, too, could woo Nasser. The new President hoped that the modernization of states like India, Indonesia, and Egypt would be the hallmark of his administration. But Nasser’s aggressive military moves, including an attack on Yemen that was meant to weaken Saudi influence, quickly exploded any such notion. Nor was Saudi Arabia a reliable ally. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, approved large arms sales to the country in the mid-1960’s, only to be repaid with Saudi support for an international oil embargo to punish the U.S. for backing Israel during the 1967 Six-Day war. Oil prices were sent soaring again in 1973 when OPEC followed the same course, a move engineered by a Saudi sheikh. After the end of the embargo in 1974, Bronson observes, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia began to work more closely together, especially in trying to keep other countries out of the Soviet orbit. With the U.S. in full-scale retreat after Vietnam, the Saudis provided billions in foreign and military aid to Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Pakistan. By the 1980’s, the Saudis were funding the Nicaraguan contras in the face of a congressional ban on U.S. support. “In Afghanistan, Angola, the horn of Africa, and elsewhere,” Bronson writes, “Saudi Arabia’s contributions helped the Reagan administration aid and abet anti-Communist activities on a worldwide scale.” Like many American cold warriors, the Saudis hated Communism, according to Bronson, at least partly because of its militant atheism. Indeed, she suggests, it is important to recall this commonality when looking at present-day U.S.-

Saudi tensions. Though the kingdom’s eagerness to disseminate its strict Wahhabi creed certainly contributed to the later rise of al Qaeda—a group whose core consisted of mujahideen from the f ight against the Soviets in Afghanistan— the religious enthusiasm of the Saudis is also what made them so stalwart an ally of the United States against the Soviet Union. The two countries were connected, in short, not only by mutual interests based on oil but by a principled opposition to godless Communism.

Bronson supplies many fascinating details about the Saudi antiCommunist crusade, and in this regard convincingly shows that the interests of Riyadh and Washington coincided across a range of issues. Moreover, her book is mercifully free of the conspiracy-minded nonsense that permeates so many other recent accounts of America’s historical relationship to its Middle East allies, including most notoriously Craig Unger’s House of Saud, House of Bush (2004), which portrays the Bushes and their circle as servants of Big Oil in cahoots with the Saudis. Still, in her quest for evenhandedness and her eagerness to show other dimensions of the Saudi-U.S. bond, Bronson overreaches. This is especially true on the question of religion, which she sees as a key aff inity between the two countries right from the outset. As she writes, for instance, of the Eisenhower administration: “Oil by itself does not explain why, in the late 1950’s, the United States sought to transform the Saudi king into a globally recognized Muslim leader. The Saudi leadership’s claim to Mecca and Medina and the importance this had for America’s antiCommunist agenda is a more powerful explanation.” But is it? Bronson simply asserts what she has failed to demonstrate. A more plausible reading is that Saudi stewardship of Mecca and Medina was im-

portant to Eisenhower only insofar as it was a symbol of Saudi prestige and influence, and thus stability. Despite Bronson’s emphasis on religiosity, the Saudi ruling family, it must also be said, has been distinguished less for its piety than for its flamboyantly self-indulgent and ruinously expensive lifestyle. What is missing from her somewhat antiseptic volume is any real f lavor of this ruling elite, which resembles less a government than an exotic and especially well-financed mafia. Worse, in trying to show “how the cold war affected the rise of religion more globally,” Bronson draws unfortunate parallels between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. In her view, the American counterpart to the Saudis’ aggressive promotion of Wahhabism and jihadist militancy is the rise in the U.S. of Christian conservatives. As she writes: “Ronald Reagan’s close ties with the American religious Right dovetailed nicely with his anti-Communist agenda.” Yes, perhaps. But surely she does not mean to imply that, say, Bob Jones University can be usefully compared with the virulently anti-Western Saudi clerical establishment. Nor do Bronson’s attempts to f ind new common ground after September 11 between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. go much beyond the platitudinous. She seems to think it is just a matter of working out a few kinks in the relationship. “Today, Saudi leaders must work to address issues surrounding the financing of extremist thought,” she says. “In return, Washington must find ways to help the pragmatists [in Riyadh] prevail in their domestic battle.” If only it were that simple. The U.S. has always been beguiled by the notion that Saudi Arabia is an island of moderation in a sea of radical Arab states, but that is an illusion. Saudi Arabia shows no signs of fundamental change, and even the Bush administration remains reluctant to demand it. For now, there is


Books in Review

little reason to think that future chapters in the relationship will be any less uneasy than the ones recounted here by Rachel Bronson.

Rap Sheet The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America
by David Horowitz
Regnery. 450 pp. $18.45

Jonathan Kay
a of other in Likethenumberoccupied afigureson conservative world, David Horowitz once point
the left side of the political spectrum—in his case, a point near the leftmost edge. Unlike others, however, he seems never to have forgiven himself for it. As if for penance, he now devotes himself singlemindedly to debunking the anticapitalist, anti-democratic, antiAmerican agenda of his erstwhile fellow travelers. On the website he founded,, as well as in newspaper columns and books, Horowitz has for some time now been offering detailed dossiers of individual radical activists, particularly on university campuses, closely scrutinizing their pronouncements, funding sources, and affiliations. Charges of McCarthyism hurled back from the Left have not deterred him. T Horowitz, his targets are not o mere misguided utopians, but intellectually malignant enemies of the West. In The Professors: The 101

Reviewed by

Most Dangerous Academics in America, he profiles the worst offenders. The Professors is organized alphabetically, with each academicJonathan Kay is a managing editor
of Canada’s National Post.

under-indictment being allotted his or her own ideological rap sheet. Most of the profiles are brief, two or three pages long. A number of well-known figures—Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, for example—are accorded more generous treatment. With a few exceptions, little biographical information is provided. Rather, the charge sheets dwell primarily on outrageous statements and deeds. Horowitz’s 101 case studies run the gamut from unreconstructed Marxists who continue to rhapsodize about the USSR’s unfulfilled promise, to Islamists openly longing for Israel’s destruction, to experts on postmodernism, postcolonialism, ethnic studies, and other faddish disciplines. Despite the heterogeneous backgrounds of those showcased, their convictions with respect to most major issues emerge as remarkably in tune, if not virtually identical T those stamped from this mold, o America is typically portrayed (in the words of Joe Feagin, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M) as a “total racist society” in which “every part of the life cycle, and most aspects of one’s life, are shaped by the racism that is integral to [its] foundation.” As for 9/11, it was a completely understandable response (according to Ron “Maulana” Karenga, a professor of black studies at California State-Long Beach) to “years of state terrorism, mass murder, selective assassination, collective punishment, and other forms of oppression by the U.S. and its allies.” Though such evils as institutional racism, globalization, and the war on terrorism are the major preoccupations of Horowitz’s prof iled academics, many are also obsessed with more obscure issues, from the merits of lesbianism—the “highest stage of feminism,” according to Bettina Aptheker, a professor of women’s studies at the University of California—to the demerits of “hetero-normativity.” The latter doctrine, in the judgment of Michael

Warner, a professor of English at Rutgers, serves to stigmatize promiscuous gay men by placing taboos on sex with total strangers. A number of Horowitz’s professors use their classrooms and publications to foment hatred of whites, Jews, and Christians. To Timothy Shortell, a sociologist at Brooklyn College, religious Americans in general are “moral retards.” Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Islamic studies at Columbia University, maintains that Israeli Jews are congenitally predisposed toward sadism. José Angel Gutiérrez, a political scientist at the University of Texas, insists that “we have got to eliminate the gringo . . . and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him.” And, of course, there is Leonard Jeffries, still teaching black studies at the City University of New York and still apparently of the belief that blacks are “sun people,” morally superior to white-hued “ice people,” and that Jews are “a race of skunks.”

Many will undoubtedly scorn The Professors as a species of rightwing snuff lit. There are, after all, 617,000 college and university professors in the United States. Naturally, some are going to be wing nuts. Wouldn’t it be better to let them wither in obscurity? But far from being isolated loons, many of those profiled in this book have national followings. In most cases, they have been spouting the same claptrap for decades, yet have been hired, promoted, and granted tenure nonetheless. Those few who have actually been taken to task by administrators for particularly repellent outbursts typically f ind themselves defended en masse by their colleagues. In this sense, The Professors is an indictment not only of one particular group of tenured radicals but of a larger academic culture that continues to tolerate, to apologize for, and to protect a set of hateful ideas and their proponents. Nothing better illustrates this