Current Projects

Shifting Sands / A Society of Strangers

Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East (Columbia University Press, forthcoming in January 2014).

In the Middle East, the most challenging of the world’s regions, the United States stumbled in its efforts to build strategic partnerships in the post-WWII era. Shifting Sands explores how American efforts foundered on the rapid flux of the area, particularly a major transformation of Mideast regional dynamics in the 1970s and 1980s; on the choice of potential partners, especially in the Arab world, that failed to live up to expectations; and on the Palestine-Israel conflict, which made it almost impossible to establish strategic ties with both Israel, the most powerful state in the area, and the Arab states, the most populous and wealthy in the region. For decades, administrations debated whether Israel was a strategic asset or liability, leaning sometimes to one side of the question and sometimes to the other. The book points to how changes in the region may now present the United States with an opportunity to overcome this Hobson’s choice and establish a new, stable multilateral basis for its presence in this crucial part of the world, including Israel and key Arab states.Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle Eastoffers a new perspective on the Middle East and America’s foreign policy in the period from the end of World War II until the present day.

A Society of Strangers: Creating One Nation Indivisible.

Consciously or not, rules for everyday life take people by the hand and guide them through the labyrinth of interactions and relations in public space. They point the way in day-to-day moral choices. They prompt people on to whom to give respect and whom they might casually dismiss or ignore, whom to fear and whom to feel comfortable with, whom to engage and whom to ignore. A public language, a widely shared understanding of appropriate behavior among strangers and acquaintances, subtly distinguishes between whom people think of as “us” and others, “them.” But effective rules do more than smooth the way for trouble-free, day-to-day interaction; they affect who is considered to be a rightful part of the American public, who can legitimately shape its habits and institutions. They constitute the underpinnings of American democracy.

This book project is about the society of strangers that constitutes America. It looks first at how this society, comprised of people who know each other, for the most part, fleetingly or not at all, formulated rules for everyday interaction in the public sphere in the nearly 100 years of rapid urbanization after the Civil War. Many of those seemingly innocent rules that guided people through their daily interactions veiled patterns of exclusion and authority in society. The core chapters examine serious challenges from the middle of the twentieth century on, particularly by excluded groups, that have eroded the existing code for day-to-day behavior. A Society of Strangers concludes by asking about the chances for re-constructing a widely shared set of everyday rules and, with them, the coherence of the American nation at a time of accelerated immigration and diversity.