Inside the Mirage
America's Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia
by Thomas Lippman
Boulder: Westview Press, 2004. 390 pp. $27.50.
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
From his first line–"An American shopper would feel right at home in the Azizia supermarket on Mecca Road in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia"–Lippman writes sympathetically about Saudi Arabia and its relation with the United States. But Inside the Mirage is no puff piece. Lippman tackles many tough questions, exploring in detail issues which put the Saudi government and society in a bad light, such as persecution of foreign Christian worshipers, arbitrary jailing of businessmen whose dealings with royal family members go bad, and the widespread lack of concern about (or even sympathy with) the September 11, 2001 attacks. That said, in many ways the most interesting sections of his account are about the early decades of the relationship post-World War II when U.S. advisors were living in isolated, dirt-poor Saudi villages. The picture Lippman draws of Saudi society in those days brings to life the traditions and approach to life which so influence Saudis to this day; after all, those now in decision-making positions were young men during those pre-oil boom decades.
Lippman's approach to the question of U.S.-Saudi relations reflects his background as a journalist, that is, he structures Inside the Mirage around information from his interviews with Americans who had remarkable experiences in Saudi Arabia. This makes for fascinating reading, but it also means that Lippman writes less about subjects that do not lend themselves easily to this approach. For instance, he provides little analysis of how important the relationship with Saudi Arabia has been to the U.S. economy and U.S. firms. And he has little to say about Saudi-U.S. interaction on questions of foreign policy, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.
As the title aptly describes, Lippman's important and useful account is about the U.S.-Saudi relationship, not about Saudi society as such. While his descriptions of the American encounter with Saudi society reveals much about the country, his accounts remain anecdotal. He does not attempt to provide an overall framework of analysis or assess how typical of Saudi Arabia those accounts are.
Related Topics: Saudi Arabia, US policy | Patrick Clawson | Fall 2004 MEQ
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