Imperfect Strangers

On Monday, March 20 I attended the lecture entitled “Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s” presented by Dr. Salim Yaqub, a guest lecturer from University of California at Santa Barbara. The lecture focused on the diplomatic strategies and challenges that shaped the 1970s in terms of US-Arab relations. Yaqub’s book, Imperfect Strangers, argues that the 1970s are the most important years to consider when analyzing the politics of the Middle East in terms of American involvement.

This lecture provided insight into how American diplomatic strategies influenced the outcomes of Middle Eastern regional conflicts. He provided examples of American policy-makers and state department officials and how their communication styles affected their ability to form personal relationships with world leaders. He spent a lot of time developing a clear picture of Henry Kissinger and his two-faced diplomacy as revealed by the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict where he was able to help neutralize Egypt, thus preventing a more serious conflict on a pan-Arab scale.

This class aims to explore cultural encounters between the United States and Arab countries. Perhaps the most relatable part of Yaqub’s lecture was his explanation of the significance of physical contact between males in the Middle East as a way to show closeness and sincerity. This, Yaqub argued, allowed Kissinger to develop better relations with Egyptian, Jordanian, and Saudi leaders. This was an interesting way to understand international relations on a micro scale through the lens of cultural mores. In the United States it is abnormal for men to show such affection; however, Kissinger leveraged his understanding of this cultural difference and he influenced the outcomes of major international conflicts because of this.

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