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Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (March 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195167430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195167436
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,581,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"A thoughtful history of U.S.-Saudi relations. It challenges the common characterization of the relationship as a bargain in which the Saudis provide easy access to oil in exchange for U.S. security guarantees."--Foreign Affairs


"This is the most solid book to date on the vital relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, with important new historical material and a hard-headed look at our tough policy choices for the future."--Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus, The Council on Foreign Relations


"Well researched.... The best sections of her impressively researched book explain the complexity and ambition of joint U.S.-Saudi undertakings against communist governments and guerrilla movements during the Cold War -- not only in Afghanistan...but also in the Middle East, Africa and Central America.... A reliable, efficient book that policymakers and regional analysts will find useful."--Steve Coll, Washington Post Book World


"Dr. Bronson provides a highly readable survey of the twists and turns that have typified the US-Saudi relationship. While there is plenty of intrigue, she also paints a picture of a relationship far more complex than most would expect. The author brings a refreshing sense of balance to one of the hot-button topics of our day. Thicker Than Oil points the way to redefining the national interests of both America and the Saudis." --Robert W. Jordan, United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 2001-2003


"Rachel Bronson has written a book, at once 'cool' and authoritative, on a subject of great controversy and importance. She makes her own way through the thicket of US-Saudi relations. A work of careful scholarship and analysis loaded with interviews and drawing on a vast literature. No axe to grind, just the story told with care and judgement."--Fouad Ajami, Majid Khadduri Professor and Director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies


"Thicker Than Oil is a highly-engaging book on a critical topic--the nature and future of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Rachel Bronson brings much-needed balance to an issue that has too often been the subject of unhelpful polemics, and she has proven herself to be a world-class researcher, unearthing numerous gems about that relationship. Her book is a vital reminder of the value of our long-time allies at a time when we have developed a bad habit of taking them for granted."--Kenneth Pollock, Director of Research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, and author of The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America


"Smart, balanced, and wonderfully readable, Thicker Than Oil is the perfect antidote to the sensationalism that has recently characterized books and movies about U.S.-Saudi relations. With an eye for the telling detail, Rachel Bronson brings down the temperature of the debate and tells the fascinating story of how the Saudis and the Americans came to be blood brothers, brought together not simply by the black gold but by geography and a common interest in fighting godless Communism. This well-documented study should be required reading for policymakers, students, and indeed anyone interested in truly understanding this most crucial and tense relationship at the crossroads where it now stands."--Noah Feldman, Professor of Law at New York University, and author of After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy


About the Author


Rachel Bronson is a Senior Fellow and Director of Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University and lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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If only the future could be as clear as the author makes the past.
J. Michael Adams
We consider this essential reading for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the vital, evolving relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Rolf Dobelli
What Bronson has done with this book is shown how lazy most other observers of the region actually are in their research.
Lee L.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Adams on 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 By N. Tsafos on June 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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 By J. Burgess on 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 By Dianne Roberts on October 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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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