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Thicker Than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia [Paperback]

Rachel Bronson
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 25, 2008 0195367057 978-0195367058
For fifty-five years, the United States and Saudi Arabia were solid partners. Then came the 9/11 attacks, which sorely tested that relationship. In Thicker than Oil, Rachel Bronson reveals why the partnership became so intimate and how the countries' shared interests sowed the seeds of today's most pressing problem--Islamic radicalism.
Drawing on a wide range of archival material, declassified documents, and interviews with leading Saudi and American officials, and including many colorful stories of diplomatic adventures and misadventures, Bronson chronicles a history of close, and always controversial, contacts. She argues that contrary to popular belief the relationship was never simply about "oil for security." Saudi Arabia's geographic location and religiously motivated foreign policy figured prominently in American efforts to defeat "godless communism." From Africa to Afghanistan, Egypt to Nicaragua, the two worked to beat back Soviet expansion. But decisions made for hardheaded Cold War purposes left behind a legacy that today enflames the Middle East.
Looking forward, Bronson outlines the challenges confronting the relationship. The Saudi government faces a zealous internal opposition bent on America's and Saudi Arabia's destruction. Yet from the perspective of both countries, the status quo is clearly unsustainable.

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Editorial Reviews


"Rachel Bronson's Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia takes on an important subject matter, the history of the U.S.--Daudi relationship, and makes an important contribution to the literature. Bronson's book is thoroughly researched, with extensive citations to diplomatic accounts, autobiographies, government documents, and intersting interviews woven into a storyboard text that is lieable and enjoyable to read."--Amy Myers Jaffe, International Journal of Middle East Studies

About the Author

Rachel Bronson is Vice President of Programs and Studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Her writings have appeared in publications such as Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune. She has commented widely on foreign affairs in outlets such as N.P.R., C.N.N., The Lehrer News Hour, The Charlie Rose Show, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195367057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195367058
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning and Insightful April 24, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Every so often a book comes along that sheds so much light and understanding on the events and people who shaped world events that the reader can honestly say; "Now I understand." Thicker Than Oil is one of those books.

Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, Iran-Contra, the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, the seeds of 9/11 sown at the end of World War II: each turns out to be the logical effect of a cause put into play over many years by presidents, kings, generals, entrepreneurs and ambassadors, all appropriately greased by oil, money and a mutual distaste for communism.

Rachel Bronson follows the trail, adds the insights, and uses the voices of the people who were actually there to document the U.S.-Saudi partnership over the last sixty years. It is the most clear and most compelling history available yet of the "uneasy" partnership.

Enjoyably readable, impeccably researched, interspersed with humor and understanding, Thicker Than Oil is everything you want a book to be. If only the future could be as clear as the author makes the past.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The non-oil connection June 4, 2006
Reducing bilateral relations between America and Saudi Arabia to oil alone is a mistake, argues Rachel Bronson, director of Middle East and Gulf Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, in this provocative book. Contrasted with recent titles on US-Saudi relations, her target is not the malevolence of the House of Saud or the supposed infesting character of America's alliance with the sentry of the Muslim faith; instead, Ms. Bronson asks: how could two countries as different as America and Saudi Arabia forge such a close alliance for so long?

Two parts form the answer: the first is that the alliance has not been airtight, much less free from squabble. Over the years, America and Saudi Arabia have clashed repeatedly, not least over America's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ms. Bronson's thorough research elucidates the ups and downs of America's rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, clarifying times when America's leaders have wanted closer ties with the kingdom and others when distance was warranted. Dispelling the myth that America and Saudi Arabia have always been close, Ms. Bronson pulls together the different strands of the story and highlights the conditions under which the two states have been attracted to one another.

From the close examination of history comes the second part to the answer: that the alliance was always about more than oil. Anti-communism and real-estate were equally important factors that brought the two countries together. America's anti-Soviet agenda found an natural partner in a devout country that was awash with money; time and again, America would turn to Saudi Arabia to finance anti-communist struggles the world over. The Saudis often obliged, for their own anti-communist reasons.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Current Book on Saudi Arabia April 17, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As one very familiar with Saudi Arabia--and who blogs about it at Crossroads Arabia--I find Rachel Bronson's book to be the current best on the topic.

Without shying away from problems in Saudi Arabia, or within the US-Saudi relationship, Bronson treats all parties involved fairly. I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia in the early 80s, and then again from shortly after 9/11 'til October of 2003. Much of what she writes about, I experienced from within the US Embassy in Riyadh and my travels around the country. Her observations and assessments almost exactly match my own.

She carefully points out that for most of its history, Saudi Arabia and the US had mutual interests, primarily in fighting the Cold War against the Soviet Union. These mutual interests overrode differences. For example, using religion as a weapon in that war was something both the Saudis and the American governments--from Eisenhower through the early Clinton administration--saw as desirable and useful. But due to domestic political pressures, as well as those from a revolutionary Iran, the Saudi government let things go too far.

After jointly chasing the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the US government--as well as the Saudis--largely forgot about all the people who were sent there on a mission, both religious and military. We are all still facing the consequences of that negligence today.

Bronson also points out that Saudi reforms are real; that the Saudis provided far more support to the US government in its wars against Afghanistan and Iraq than it's generally credited for; and that pressuring the Saudi government to pick up the pace of reform requires something more careful than simply shouting at them from a newspaper or Congressional hearing.

If you're interested in what's going on in Saudi Arabia right now, there's no better place to start than with this book.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to Criticize, But . . . October 24, 2006
I honestly find this book very hard to criticize and give "only" a 4 star rating to. As far as a work of history goes this is pretty impressive. The author clearly researched the living heck out of her subject and has more than ample footnotes to prove it. There's no reason to doubt any of her facts as anything but 100% true, and mostly comprehensive. She has a dispassionate writing style letting the facts she has uncovered speak for themselves, untempered by either leftist or rightist interpretation. And although her topic itself can be a bit dry at times, she writes quite well and the book is not a chore to finish. All of these things are like rare sparkling gems in most works of history geared towards popular audiences (i.e. as opposed to textbooks . . . in which case the above traits would probably be even more precious.)

You will learn some good information in this book. It has a brief review of Saudi Arabia's history, but the focus of the book is really on the relationship between the US government and the Saudi government so it doesn't really start until the '20's or '30's where America first begins exploring for oil in the peninsula, and doesn't get meaty until the '40's when official government relations are upgraded to embassy level and FDR and Abdel Aziz met onboard the USS Quincy. True to her title the US Saudi relationship has been about more than oil, and has taken on an air of surprising friendship in many cases, where both sides really are genuinely helping themselves out by helping out each other. On the oil front Saudi Arabia has used it as a weapon against America far less so than it's neighbors and other OPEC nations, being a reliable source to counterbalance what OPEC is doing, and covertly supplying the US military even during periods of embargo.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent,balanced work
Absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in U.S.-Saudi relations. Well written, balanced, and authoritative. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Sean D.
5.0 out of 5 stars The "story" behind the story!!
I have recently acquired a desire to know the real story of the US/Saudi relationship. I have been reading a lot about the middle east because frankly - I live in that part of the... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Robert Green
4.0 out of 5 stars Great outline of both Security and Economic Ties
Great Book. Rachel Bronson does some great analytics on the various security, economic, and relational aspects of US-Saudi interaction over the last 80 years. Read more
Published on December 20, 2011 by George Mason
4.0 out of 5 stars review of Thicker Than Oil--America's Uneasy Partnership With Saudi...
America--here meaning the USA--has had a close relationship with Saudi Arabia since that country's founding in the late 1920s, a fact that many people are vaguely aware of but... Read more
Published on January 27, 2010 by G. Heath
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed analysis of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia
Detailed analysis of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia

American foreign policy exists simultaneously at several levels. Read more
Published on June 8, 2007 by Rolf Dobelli
5.0 out of 5 stars a very useful book on relations between the American and Saudi...
Rachel Bronson, who works at a prestigious New York City think tank dedicated to Foreign Affairs, has written an excellent book on the history of the relationship between the... Read more
Published on February 12, 2007 by lector avidus
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful scholarship
The painstaking research undertaken by Rachel Bronson is formidable. She remained objective, except for the conclusions drawn at the book's end. Read more
Published on January 19, 2007 by Bex
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable, meticulously researched, even-handed
Rachel Bronson's book is an exceptional accomplishment. She uses a vast number of authoritative sources and weaves a compelling and readable account of complex geopolitical... Read more
Published on August 15, 2006 by THOMAS G. OBRIEN III
5.0 out of 5 stars an absolutely remarkable piece of research
Saudi Arabia, and America's relationship with it, is quite possibly one of the most important aspects of the Middle East today. Read more
Published on August 4, 2006 by Lee L.
5.0 out of 5 stars She's rightfully very rough on Saddam Hussein!
Bronson refers to Saddam as a monster.Exactly he is a mass murderer of 182,000 kurds in just one year and hundreds of thousands more people in Iraq, Kuwait, and Iran. Read more
Published on May 7, 2006 by Big V
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