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December 04, 2006

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Bob Vitalis

Greg: I am going to refrain from commenting in great detail, if only to avoid putting anyone foolhardy enough to read our exchanges to sleep (and maybe that is the solution for me--go read comments on someone else's site, since I am writing this from Seattle where I have come to give a talk and woke around 4 a.m. sigh). On the other hand I am geeky enough to see--my eyes have been opened--the value of places on the web where folks who care about the arguments in books and articles can talk about them. Imagine, a seminar where everyone has actually done the reading (and they are all a lot smarter than you!)
So a bit of an answer or two answers.

First, on fiscal reform. What I think is true is that Saud basically continues down the road paved by his father. The kingdom was in arrears throughout the 1940s and 1950s, spending more than they earned in oil revenues, borrowing from merchants and even better banks and so on.

What leads to a bit of a crisis is the shock or extra costs associated with the 1956 war.

Still, as I note in my book, the IMF guys show up and Saud signs on to the plan. There is no reason to think that, had Saud not been forced to cede control of day-to-day running of the government to Faisal that the IMF plan wouldn't have been followed for the next few years. And it is not the fiscal problems that drove the process of Faisal taking over, of course. So, as I said, let's give Faisal half credit for staying the course, but then let's remember that his doing so leads to defections from Saudi merchants but also the Americans, and the beginning of the criticism of Faisal for being clueless about development. To be cynical about it everyone wants the Saudis at that moment to put their financial house in order and yet somehow spend more on development, buying of US goods, subsidizing the Syrians or the Jordanians, bid for regional hegemon status against Nasser. The prescriptions to do both are incoherent to say the least.

Second, about the chances for political reform. I was careful not to argue about prospects for success, not least since I tell the story of the reformers' defeat. But what is interesting to me is the moment itself, that there were folks openly organizing, writing planning documents, imaginging a different political order, and so on. It is a moment I think before the kind of politics that we are now familar with get locked in. Steffan Hertog's work I think will help to show this (as does the great and unfortunately unread Yizraeli book) This is also why it is important to go back to commentators at the time rather than repeat what has now become the way too simple stories of two guys, one a drunk, the other abstemious (Muhammad Heikal had lots to say about this one in the mid-1950s by the way) that books all repeat now like a mantra--and I am reading Larry Wright's Looming Tower right now. Go look at all the errors in his short discussion of this same moment.

What is true though, too, is that at least some reforms were implemented, namely the system of local elections that are put in place. We don't have the story of that process straight yet unfortunately. But what we might say about it is once in place the regime it takes work to undo. Same goes with the national planning process--on the economic side--that Talal and allies begin to build.

Tom Lippman

I want to congratulate Bob Vitalis on the publication of this most interesting and provocative book, even though I take quite a drubbing in it. That's OK, I don't take it personally; Bob must know that I don't accept his basic premise -- which is that the Americans in saudi Arabia were historically indistingushable from the Belgians in the Congo or the Spanish in Peru. I do however take exception to the assertion on Page 17 that I chose to ignore the issues he raises rather than confront them. There is an entire chapter in my book Inside the Mirage devoted to the issues of American racism, discrimination in housing and promotions, and local workers' resentment. Bob may regard my treatment as shallow or biased -- I don't doubt that he does -- but I did not "ignore" these matters.
Tom Lippman
The Middle East Institute, Washington

Bob Vitalis

Tom: You “take a drubbing” (I would have said some of your ideas are criticized) in my book because your own is unreliable on matters of fact and, in ways I make painfully clear, uncompelling as an account of the era and the events, relationships, and institutions that underpin it. We get some clues in your post as to why that might be the case. That is, you are just not that good a reader, and in one of the matters here, dishonest, to be blunt about it.

1
You make the following claim: That you “don't accept” what you say is my “basic premise -- which is that the Americans in Saudi Arabia were historically indistinguishable from the Belgians in the Congo or the Spanish in Peru.” This seems to be your explanation for the drubbing.

Readers now have my statement here of what the basic premise of my book actually is. They have two additional accounts by others. And they can pick up the book and judge for themselves. No one says anything like what you think you see on the printed page because it is nowhere to be found, not least because I hold no belief of the kind. You are dishonest because I told you as much in our one phone conversation about these matters some two years ago. I also tried to explain to you what I actually think. Maybe you just don’t remember or weren’t taking notes. Then again, it is not hard to find my various articles, talks, and so on and read them.

I speak of the “American Empire” in the nineteenth century when writing broadly about the episodes of conquest, war, extermination of native American peoples, the Supreme Court’s designation of the Cherokee as domestic dependencies, and the like. In doing so I follow the great historian and writer for Harper’s from the 1930s, Bernard DeVoto, and his heirs, men like Richard White and women like Patty Limerick. But perhaps you still prefer the version of the past that was taught in cold war civic classes, those that spoke of manifest destiny, empty continents, and civilizing missions.

In turning to write in detail about one firm, ARAMCO, in one place, the kingdom, beginning in the 1930s, I tend to speak about “economic imperialism” rather than about empire, as did—as I show—the New York Times, the first US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, his British counterpart, and this country’s first Saudi Arabian expert at State when discussing ARAMCO, and President Harry Truman when discussing the actions of British and American oil companies in Mexico around the same time. The only comparisons I make are between American policy in its Caribbean protectorates, Salvador and Panama in the 1920s, and Great Britain’s policies in its Middle East protectorates. Here I followed the lead of the Harvard Ph.D. who headed the research program of New York’s American Foreign Policy Association. But I do note how FDR’s government took over some of the obligations of the British imperial power toward its client, Ibn Saud, during World War II. I say nothing in America’s Kingdom about King Leopold in Belgium let alone about sixteenth-century Spain.

What I told you in our phone conversation, when you first accused me of this bizarre idea, is that I believe it makes little sense to imagine and compare distinct national styles of empire, and the example I used for you was the British Empire. So British practices in the 1700s I said are different from British practices in the twentieth century. I said it made more sense to think structurally in terms of epochs or eras, and one of the goals would be to explain what accounts for the changing face of empire over time. This view is woven into the narrative I have crafted in America’s Kingdom.

You can accept or reject this way of thinking about the problem (if you understand it) but, once more, I make no argument about equivalency of any sort across national imperial styles. I make an argument about the similarity of practices by oil and other mining enterprises, focused on the racial wage system (which you say nothing about) across about a century of history in and outside the North American continent, a proof that I think goes far in countering the idea that when the Americans get to Dhahran they are busy pioneering some new style “partnership in progress and development.” The same system was in use by non-American-owned firms as well.

2
You write "I do however take exception to the assertion on Page 17 that I chose to ignore the issues he raises rather than confront them. There is an entire chapter in my book Inside the Mirage devoted to the issues of American racism, discrimination in housing and promotions, and local workers' resentment. Bob may regard my treatment as shallow or biased -- I don't doubt that he does -- but I did not "ignore" these matters.”

Readers are invited to turn to that chapter and compare our accounts, so that they can gauge how well your claims stand up to scrutiny and, to use an old-fashioned word, the facts. I’d say shallow, yes, but certainly no more biased than my or any other account. That is, I don’t think about things as biased or unbiased. American Journalists do, and it is a peculiar norm of your profession.

As I said, though, you are just not that careful a reader. What I actually wrote is
“And in 2004 the ex-Washington Post journalist Thomas Lippman would simply ignore the inconvenient facts of Saudi protests against American discrimination rather than wrestle honestly with the argument.” So, nowhere in your book can we find an account of what the leaders of the 1953 strike were arguing for and against. Worst of course is that there is no account at all of the many other strikes before and after, and not just by Saudis, but by all segments of the labor force, against the Jim Crow system. To read Lippman, one wouldn’t know that a decade and a half of protest ever took place. And the argument you ignore is mine, not the fact of racism, which you explain by resort to the old Myrdalian idea, and that is indeed unconvincing, for reasons I show.

In the world of scholarship, we read carefully, consider the strongest arguments of those we disagree with, and attempt where we can to undermine them. That is how knowledge advances (not that I am overly-idealistic about these matters). In your world, by contrast, one sees or imputes or detects the hidden, secret premise in books and the ideological leanings of people, hence calling me a Marxist (when Toby Jones asked you why you ignored the main arguments of my work on ARAMCO), which would amuse the few actual Marxists I know given that I have written a book that never once uses the concept of class or talks about the needs of capitalism and the like. You do the equivalent of what Michael Moore likes to do in his movies, and you are about as reliable a guide as he is.

Anyway, readers of books, including Gause and Jones and many, many others are smart. They will read what I actually write rather than making up what I don’t, so they will see that I attempt to write in the tradition of the great American progressive historians, Charles Beard and W. E. B. Du Bois, and the greatest of the twentieth century students of American empire, William Appleman Williams. These same readers will easily be able to determine who has produced the better, more coherent, and compelling account of life in the ARAMCO camps in the 1940s-1960s.

Toby Jones

These are too-brief comments, but brevity (and perhaps mystery) is a positive quality, no?

Greg, you mentioned in your comments that Tariki and ibn Muammar probably did not have much of a political base in Saudi Arabia. If that is true, then your conclusion that they could not “have accomplished the kinds of changes the Bob implies they could, including building institutions for popular representation in Saudi politics” is likely right. But I wonder if this is in fact a fair characterization of popular sentiment in the kingdom. In the end, because we have so little evidence, it will be hard to know. The absence of widespread organization or any substantive demonstration of public political interest seems to strengthen your argument. Even Bob notes that Iraqi and Iranian laborers received a better deal than their Saudi counterparts partly because they were better able and did successfully organize. But the absence of organization outside ARAMCO camp did not mean that (some) Saudi citizens in far-flung communities did not have strong feelings about local and national affairs or that they would did not support a more inclusive or representative polity. It is impossible to know what this might have meant long term, because the Saudi state grew increasingly capable of snuffing out and crushing any potential opposition or political alternative.

In the Eastern Province – and perhaps this is not a representative case considering most residents there were/are Shiite – the local press in the 1950s was full of criticism of the state (not so much of ARAMCO, although some) and support for Arab nationalism. The frustration and political ideas expressed in the pages of periodicals such as Akhbar al-Dhahran, which first operated from 1954 to 1956 and was closed for calling for education for girls (Bob, this closure happened under Saud’s and not Faisal’s watch), showed that both the paper’s columnists and a large number of op-ed contributors supported exactly the kinds of politics that Tariki, et al articulated at the heights of power. While much of the political ranting contained in the paper was immature and only emerging, it was passionate, well articulated, and seemed to be widely held or at least representative throughout the Eastern Province. Empirically, the example of Akhbar al-Dhahran is not enough to draw sweeping conclusions about the country more generally, but it is important.

Bob, I fully support your argument that Faisal was not a political reformer or a developer in the best sense of those words. You do a very nice job of demolishing that particular myth and along with Yizraeli restore some sensibility about both his and Saud’s place in Saudi history. But I think there is another way to tell the story of development in the 1950s and 1960s that while not inconsistent with your accounting, is nevertheless different from it. I also want to point out that there is some slippage in our discussion and perhaps in America’s Kingdom as well about what development, modernization, and reform actually are. I might be wrong here, but I don’t think Bob ever really defines development in any substantial way, except to note that ARAMCO and the US government had very strong beliefs about whether Saud or Faisal were pursuing it earnestly enough. This matters because I argue that Saud and Faisal did care a great deal about using science and technology to master space, nature, and people as well as to strengthen/create a national economy, and so on. In fact, in this respect, they were following the tradition of their father who first brought in Karl Twitchell several decades earlier to explore and harness the Arabian Peninsula’s water resources.

I see little difference between Saud and Faisal, especially on the issue of development and what they believed its appropriate role to be. I suggest that neither had any particular interest in pursuing development/modernization in a manner that was consistent with American expectations nor in service to Saudi society generally. But, I think that was at least partially deliberate. While they both demonstrated a keen understanding of what the Americans thought development could and should achieve, those principles were not consistent with their own political objectives – which was shoring up their own personal power first and the secure sovereignty of the royal family second. There were a number of technological and scientific projects, some undertaken by ARAMCO and others contracted out to foreign firms by the Saudi government, undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s that were intended to strengthen Riyadh’s political reach and power.

Bob Vitalis

On Toby’s Comment (Prospects for a Different Order, Akhbar al-Dhahran, Saud v Faisal, and Development)

Once again (and this time on a train to Lewistown, PA) I am struck by how great it would be to read new books collectively and to read what folks as good as Greg and Toby have to say about them. In this case, there are others well-placed to enlighten, including Madawi, Abd al-Muhsin al-Akkas, Abd al-Aziz al-Fahad, Stefan, Robert Lacey (that book holds up!), and the Tel Aviv School as I refer to to them. And there are at least ten other books I’d like to be reading and seeing smart people discuss.

But on to some points

1
For all the reasons I suggest in my book—the presentism of the 1970s generation of scholars, the money that was being spent to consolidate a particular account of the past, the lack of access to sources, and so on (but also see 3. below)—we have tended to accept the myths rather than think hard enough about the state building process in the first couple of decades of oil development. You can see this again by looking at Tom Lippman’s and Rachel Bronson’s (especially the first draft of the book before she got my critique via Lindsay, but that is another story) books where it is the same old stupid Saud, brilliant Faisal (I told Lindsay in fact that the Council would never sanction such a simple-minded story about politics in any other place on the globe). The moment was a relatively open one that we have imposed a (too simple) narrative on retrospectively. In fact what you see someone like the NY Times reporter, Dana Adams Schmidt doing, is trying it out, first with Saud as the star (when they were still even acknowledging Tariki, Talal, Wahba, Bin Muammar, and others) and then with Faisal taking over the role.

Institutions were not decaying ala Chaudhry (who, to acknowledge the contribution, is too smart and interesting to buy into the Saud v Faisal story. Her predecessors are people like Lackner, Islam and Kavoussi, al-Naqeeb, with their interests in regions, class formation, and so on). Rather institutions were emerging. Yizraeli and now Hertog are are best guides on some of this, and many of the materials I uncovered support this point, just to name one source, the O’Dea report (and those guys at Utah should protect it! It is a tiny treasure).
We also shouldn’t lose sight of the significance of the wider currents shaping the kingdom in a moment when Nasserism, Bathism, and Communism are all in play in people’s ideas about the present and future.

You didn’t need “classes” or vast “coalitions” to change the future course of events either. Military coups were by all means possible (but the Americans were vigilant! And perhaps, as I suggest, some of the nationalists took that crazy talk about the Americans being behind the Nasserist project way too seriously, and seeking American support).

Segueing into my discussion of Saud v Faisal, while we can’t get into their heads obviously, the documentary record shows Faisal in particular engaged with Nasserism in some sense early perhaps because people close to him were. Who knows? But the Americans saw Faisal more as their enemy and Saud more as their ally up through around 1958 (especially once the Onassis deal is scrapped). They attributed many of what they saw as anti-US actions to F and his clients, including Tariki. So the censorship of Akhbar al-Dhahran (and I agree, a great source) has to be considered carefully along with other steps domestically and internationally when trying to figure out who is behind the repression. The Americans though tended to see Faisal generally as more of an architect of repression at any moment, and some of their own informants of course support this, and Saud as the guy buying the tribes and so on.

2.
On Saud v Faisal, my point is not to switch them around to make Saud the hero and Faisal the um goat. I fully agree with Toby that there aren’t any real differences in their outlooks, and I say as much, through some of the sources I used to make this particular point. (Both though are more um enlightened then their father, to betray a prejudice, and to get all those Abd al-Aziz as wise desert warrior and leader of his “people” fans agitated). What is most interesting, and what underpins the writing of chapter 8, is the fact that we have told this way too simple story for so long. And what I try to show is that depending on the moment, early 1950s, mid 1950s, 1960, etc. it is being told variously about one or the other as good guy and bad guy, and who gets the good guy crown depends basically on who is seen as serving or not US and/or ARAMCO interests. This is incontrovertible and, as I suggest in the book, a pattern that can be seen in the westerners’ various accounts of Egyptian politics and personalities too in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is always fun, for instance, to see Caffery and other Americans lauding King Farouk’s vision rather than…well…you know… carrying on about him being fat and lascivious (the version that Larry Wright now reproduces in Looming Tower) Jeez. Imagine a book that explains US politics and foreign policy after the cold war primarily in terms of someone’s penchant for blow jobs from his interns.

If the two, Faisal and Saud, basically share the same outlook but at the same time keep switching positions and arguments, well there is more going on here. Yes, they are jockeying for power, and that matters, and Greg and others continue to provide good grounds for keeping this aspect of the decade in the forefront of our analyses, but when they are switching, that is a signal too that the story has to be complicated. We have tended to complicate it primarily in terms of the king’s and crown prince’s reactions to “foreign policy shocks” (the Safran school?) and so on, but that is only part of the story. We need to build (athough I hate to adopt political science simplifications like these) a “domestic politics” component more centrally, and I try what I can do with the evidence I uncovered to do so. Wouldn’t you have loved to be at the Yamama hotel during those strategy sessions I report with Muammar and others? Someone really ought to get Shaykh Mustafa Wahba to talk for the record about this remarkable moment (and get Hisham Nazer and others to talk for the record about Tariki but, in the meantime, watch for Muhammad al-Sayf’s forthcoming biography).

And some smart graduate student ought to take the transnationalist turn of those like Dan Rodgers, Gilroy and Brent Edwards, among others, to reframe the history of the Arab World in the long decade of the 1950s. Dudes! Now that would be the book that would replace Fouad Ajami’s Arab Predicament on my shelf. There were many amazing thinkers and moments we still don’t know enough about, like Tariki’s encounter with Bustani at the Arab Oil Conference. Ideas, films, books, development projects, labor migration…. Ahmad Osman in the kingdom building the airport that Minoru Yamasaki designed in Dhahran before going on to design the Twin Towers.

3. On Development. Toby, I would politely resist your suggestion about defining what real development actually is. I see why you would care about that in particular. But the criticism may also suggest a misreading or more likely my failure to convey what I was up to in that crammed last chapter with enough clarity.

Anytime the Americans were pissed off at either Faisal or King Saud they offered one of two basic criticisms. So, as we saw, when King Saud was busy building ministries, the university, renovating the holy sites (and Larry Wright is way off on his account of this one, for you geeks out there! 1950? With Talal as minister? Fact checking alert), subsidizing the Syrians, paying off the Egyptians, the tribes, and so on, and while doing so he has done something to earn the wrath of the administration, well then it is, oh my god, we can’t believe it, the kingdom is in arrears! He better get the house in order. Particularly when ARAMCO is cutting off the spigot too, even while it was, as I suggested a few posts ago, the way the fiscal regime worked generally under Abd al-Aziz, and there wasn’t any moment with a particular um surplus in the treasury, needless to say.

Now, say you are Faisal, and you have chosen not to throw out the IMF advisors that Saud brought in (like you did the World Bank advisor a few years later), and you have stopped the modest military modernization project, the ministry building and the like (but not the dole to the family of course) and ARAMCO is loaning you money again, hoping you are gonna get rid of Tariki. But you don’t. And you are still wheeling and dealing with Nasser, and threatening to close down the US Base in Dhahran and so on. Well, jeez, oh my god. The Saudis are failing to use their resources to develop the kingdom! Wink Wink to Saud.

Lo and behold. More ministries, Mecca renovations, contracts for Bechtel and ARAMCO turning on the spigot (hoping you are gonna get rid of Tariki).

So all I said in addition to pointing out this pattern, from which we get, to repeat the point, our scholarly and journalistic accounts until today, was that Faisal remained the main obstacle to the real would be developmentalists that the king for his own purposes was supporting or enamored of, or manipulating (depending on the analyst’s presumptions since we can’t really know which, right? or am I missing something?). For way too long. But because he was our man or Kennedy’s man (um, not least, for finally getting rid of Tariki!), we canonize him as the reformer who saves the kingdom (although there was no real threat and there were no reforms save one, ending slavery, that can hardly do the heavy lifting analytically, as I show, the election regime is ended, and some other institution-busting takes place over his first years).

It is the stories we tell that are the problems. The origins of them are now obscured, and they take on a life of their own. So when I was in Cairo, presenting a draft of the last chapter, where I praise Yizraeli and where I draw on US documents to develop my critique of Faisal, I was criticized by Mustafa al-Sayyid who said it couldn’t be right 1. because I was using American sources and citing an Israeli but was not reporting what Arabs know are true, which is 2. of course Faisal was a great leader because. The proof of this is he supported Pan-Arab nationalism by using the oil weapon in 1973. Cool! But what does this have to do with the 1960s when the same great Pan-Arab leader was obsessed with destroying Nasser? How do you build this aspect of the history into your portrait of Faisal? So, I hope you see, that equally um selective (and problematical) accounts gets canonized elsewhere.

Finally, of course, the practice has by no means ended in the U.S. We continue to swing back and forth between the two parables. I attended a CFR session in the 1990s when Greg was at the Council where Saud al-Faisal’s stand in (if I am recalling correctly but you can find the account in MERIP) was beaten up for the kingdom spending too much (remember the weapons sales after the Gulf war?) and so on, contributing to fiscal crisis, and threatening stability. Meanwhile a year or two later, I listened as the US embassy’s political officer carried on about Crown Prince Abdallah’s genuine efforts “to take Saudi Arabia out of the middle ages and into the twentieth century.” It was like a time warp, and I told him so, to which his response was, “are you telling me my analysis is stale.” Duh.

Toby Jones

Bob -- this is great stuff and I am entirely in agreement with your arguments about Faisal and development both here and in the book.

That said, I do think it is important to acknowledge that the meaning(s) of development is contested and is significant beyond the rift between Tariki and the Americans, although I do not want to suggest that there is such a thing as "real" development. Rather there are many different meanings of development, all of which, as you show, are in the eye of the beholder. I think more than anything, my desire to emphasize this point is to show that while the Americans used development to frame their political frustration and to criticize Saud and Faisal when they did something the Americans didn't like, development did in fact mean something to both Saud and Faisal much like it meant something to Tariki, Bin Muammer, et al. Development, in fact, is at the heart of the Saudi and the American story in Saudi Arabia in the 1950s and after. This might be an overstatement, but it is also possible that the story of development is THE story of Saudi Arabia in the 1960s and 1970s.

Perhaps my most important argument, beyond the fact that "development" was a political instrument that served American and Saudi power in different ways, is that it also came to have symbolic political and ideological meaning in Saudi Arabia. After all, it is Saudis -- as you point out clearly – who most revere Faisal as modernizer/developer/reformer. Although the Americans manipulated the reformer label for various reasons and then jettisoned it when their interests were not served, the appellation has garnered its most
relevance specifically in the Saudi domestic political context. Madawi al-Rasheed has also smartly argued that this continues to be Faisal's legacy.

To be brief, in the 1960s Faisal was particularly effective at promoting development/modernization as having domestic significance and meaning. He may have been an Islamist (whatever that might have meant at the time), but that label obscures more than it reveals. This was part of my criticism of Bronson's book in Foreign Affairs.

Development work came to form a central part of the political contract that Faisal formulated in that decade. I believe, although I might be taking something of a leap from the evidence I do have (that said, I don't think so), that the state came to see development as a kind of surrogate ideology for a comprehensive Saudi nationalism. It was of course, blended with Islam. Later on this all takes shape in the worn out/hackneyed arguments about Saudi Arabia being both modern and traditional. The substance of how this came to be is important and fascinating -- and often overlooked. Under Faisal the scale and range of promises made to Saudi citizens (technical services, social services, and so on) were expanded and these promises were framed in the kind of American-style modernization theory and development talk that became popular during the Cold War. Not ironically nor un-noticed in the literature, Faisal failed to deliver on much of it. But the promotion of modernization and the Saudi state as a development agency of sorts was as important as the failure and perhaps helps explain why the response to the failure was often so violent (see my piece in IJMES May 2006 on the 1979 Shia uprising for an example). At first, these responses had little to do with traditional societies rebelling against modernity, although activists tagged anti-modernism onto the rhetoric later on. Again, see the kinds of things the Shia Organization for the Islamic Revolution said in the 1980s compared to what it said during the unrest itself.

Why bring this up here? Well, my suggestion in an earlier post that there might be a need for clarity on development's meaning and that there might be some slippage is based on my concern that allowing the American's to do all the talking about development also allows them to define it. While the American story is important, I want to make sure that we leave room – or carve out the room -- for further discussion of development and the various roles it played in the kingdom.

Rachel Bronson

Bob Vitalis’ lack of professional ethics should no longer shock any of us.
There are, by this point, enough examples of his violating the norms of off-the-record sessions and confidentiality that it is no longer news.

Still, perhaps because this time I am the target, it rankles. Bob holds himself up as a paragon of academic standards. See his earlier posting in which he identifies the difference between academics and journalists. And yet, he ceaselessly tramples one of the most basic tenets of academe -- that of keeping early circulated drafts in confidence. Unless that norm is upheld, scholars will be hesitant to show early versions of their work, thus reducing the power of their final product.
Perhaps that is Bob's goal?

In citing my first draft in his above post, I believe Bob has yet again crossed this ethical line. Scholars distribute early drafts in order that others may comment and improve upon existing work. We cannot all know everything, and therefore we distribute work to trusted sources in order to improve upon our own. Had Bob’s work been completed in less then 10 years, perhaps my first draft could have drawn on his findings, and I could have cited him appropriately, rather than thanking two anonymous readers in my acknowledgements, which I did, even though it was clear Bob was one of them. That Bob was an “anonymous” reviewer was obvious from his self-referential comments, but also because he circulated his comments of my draft to select parties, again an unbelievable breach of confidentiality and integrity.

The reason it was important to send my draft to Bob, was both because he was going to be a tough critic, and therefore make my work better, but also because the domestic politics of the 1960s was of secondary importance to my overall argument. His comments were enormously helpful. Still, if Bob could credibly show that my misreading of Saudi domestic politics affected Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy decisions, and more importantly the US-Saudi relationship, then we could have an interesting debate and discussion, and I would say his current critiques would be more interesting and more valuable. To date, he has not. Some academics have made such critiques and I hold them up as the more useful responses to my work. Toby Jones, for example, began to lay out the outlines of such a critique in his Foreign Affairs review of my book. Others have made similar observations. But Bob seems obsessed with publicly criticizing early drafts, rather than taking hold and grappling with the final product. I’m told he is currently writing a review of the book. I can only hope that it is based on the published version, rather than the draft, but at this point I highly doubt it.

This Abu Aardvark posting is not the first time Bob has cited my unpublished drafts in a public forum. Several years ago, I received calls from colleagues who attended a conference in Philadelphia. They were incredulous that Bob was citing my work, although he did not invite me to the conference to defend it. They were shocked that he would do so, especially because they were fully aware my book was still in its early stages.

Bob’s incessant citing of work that he agreed to review in confidence is a violation of academic ethics and standards. I find it shocking that other academics make no comment about this. Perhaps they are fearful that Bob will turn his sharp edge on them.


Rachel Bronson

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