I just finished reading Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present by Michael B. Oren, an encyclopedic recent history of the Middle East. As an investor, you are going to have to be knowledgeable about this hot spot, because headlines from there will continue to impact global financial markets for the rest of our professional lives.
It started when the Ottoman Empire was the controlling superpower of the day, and ruled over one third of the civilized world. Barbary pirate attacks led to the creation of the American navy, and in effect, the modern United States. Missionaries then spent 100 years attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity, with virtually no success. But they did provide a great well spring of future generations of Arabic speaking diplomats, military advisors, entrepreneurs, and spies.
British bankers happily piled debt on to emerging Egypt during the US Civil War to grow more cotton for the mills in Manchester, and when that country declared the first ever sovereign debt default in 1875, they seized it as a colony. Up until WWI, the state department formed policy based on information found in travel guides. Today’s Chevron managed to lock in crucial oil leases in Saudi Arabia because it offered to pay in gold, while Great Britain was bidding with only paper rupees.
The book tracks the Zionist movement from its infancy to the foundation of Israel, spilling much blood along the way. It Chronicles the Arabs’ recovery of their own oil resources, from the takeover of Aramco to the nationalist movements of today. The procession of Mideast wars are chronicled in painstaking detail. As a lifetime habitué of the international investment scene, it’s hard to avoid the Middle East.
I entered the scene as a journalist in the seventies, interviewing the principals for The Economist. I grabbed the opportunity to meet Golda Meir, who remained a domineering school teacher to the end, and was almost shot by Yassir Arafat’s bodyguard during an interview. I then spent a decade covering Persian Gulf princes and sheiks for Morgan Stanley. The week I retired, I was drafted to fly for the Marine Corp in desert shield/desert storm. In all, the 778 page opus leaves no stone unturned and delivers a riveting read. For preferential Amazon pricing for the hard copy, as well as the audio book, please click here.