University of Pennsylvania Professor Re-Writes History of U.S. Saudi Relations

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Media Contact:Jacquie Posey | | 215-898-6460October 12, 2006

PHILADELPHIA-  Robert Vitalis, associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, rewrites U.S.-Saudi history in his new book, "America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier."  The book is published by Stanford University Press.  

Vitalis takes aim at long-held beliefs about the Arabian American Oil Company and its role in Saudi Arabia and uses company archives and firsthand accounts of ARAMCO employees and State Department officials to debunk myths about America's relationship with Saudi Arabia.  

Vitalis argues that oil led the U.S. to follow ARAMCO to the kingdom.

"Eisenhower agreed to train Ibn Sa'uds army, Kennedy sent jets to defend the kingdom and Lyndon Johnson sold it missiles.  Oil and ARAMCO quickly became America's largest single overseas private enterprise," Vitalis writes.

"Americans imported a Jim Crow system in the Dhahran oil camps in the 1930s, leading to a period of unrest in the 1950s and 1960s when workers challenged the racial hierarchy of the ARAMCO camps while a small cadre of progressive Saudis challenged the hierarchy of the international oil market. The defeat of these groups led to the consolidation of Americas Kingdom under the House of Fahd, the royal faction that still rules today, Vitalis writes.

"My book casts the history of U.S.-Saudi relations in an entirely new light, away from the simple-minded and misleading talk of backroom bargains and conspiracies or what the kingdom's champions call the special relationship-- there was no special relationship.  What I show is the all too familiar, unbroken legacy of mining companies and racism across the entire twentieth century, from Arizona, once known as the Garden of Allah, to the Saudi Kingdom and beyond," Vitalis said.

Additional information about "America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier" is available at