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Writer, educator, consultant. Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, former senior fellow for international security affairs; Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Cambridge, MA, former fellow; Columbia University, New York, NY, former adjunct professor; Council on Foreign Relations, New York, NY, former senior fellow and director of Middle East Studies; Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Chicago, IL, vice president of programs and studies, 2007—. Commentator for NPR and CNN.
Also the author of Guiding Principles for U.S. Post-Conflict Policy in Iraq, 2003. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, National Interest, New York Times, Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune.
A former senior fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations, Rachel Bronson is the author of numerous scholarly articles as well as of the 2006 book, Thicker Than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia. Bronson's study looks at the close relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, contending, as Library Journal contributor Elizabeth Hayford noted, "that American leaders need to do more careful analysis to define common interests and work toward mutually beneficial goals." She also argues that reform of the political institutions in Saudi Arabia should take place on a measured basis. This is necessary, Bronson holds, in order to avoid the eventual collapse of the autocratic House of Saud. Bronson's study thus focuses largely on foreign policy, accepting the fact of America's reliance on Saudi oil. Bronson also acknowledges the uneasy alliance between the two countries, and that it is more than an oil-for-security arrangement. During the Cold War, the connection between the United States and Saudi Arabia was perhaps easier to understand and excuse, for they were both enemies of the Soviet Union. But increasingly it appears that a country such as Saudi Arabia, with its undemocratic form of government, is a rather unnatural ally for a country like the United States. Bronson goes into the history of this alliance, pointing out that every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has cultivated the alliance, with incentives such as oil, security, and a mutual fight against communism cementing the relationship.
Reviewing Thicker Than Oil in the National Interest, Michael O'Hanlon called it "one of the more informative and path-breaking books on the region of the last three or four years." O'Hanlon further commented, "It is a solid and readable history, and a compelling analysis, done at just the right level of detail (about 350 pages) and with just the right balance between policy pragmatism and idealism." O'Hanlon also found Bronson's narrative of the history of Saudi Arabia praiseworthy: "The book tells the history of Saudi Arabia in a pithy yet textured way." Bronson details this history from the 1744 alliance between the House of Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, through the discovery of oil in 1932, to the regrettable decision in 1979 (with the fall of the Shah of Iran) by the then current head of the House of Saud to be lenient toward religious extremism, and through the attacks of September 11th (most of the terrorists were Saudis) to the present day. "But the heart of the book is the history of the relationship during the Cold War period—leading up to the fateful seventeen years that have since followed," O'Hanlon commented.
O'Hanlon also noted, however, that "if Bronson's book has a limitation it is perhaps that it fails to lay out a sufficiently ambitious vision for how Saudi Arabia itself might reform." In a similar vein, Washington Post Book World critic Steve Coll also observed that "Bronson is not interested in upending the status quo, and she does not explore the implications of what even an old wildcatter like President Bush has come to acknowledge as America's unhealthy ‘addiction’ to imported oil." A similar objection to the work was raised by Commentary reviewer Jacob Heilbrunn, who found "Bronson's attempts to find new common ground after September 11 between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. [do not] go much beyond the platitudinous." David E. Long, however, writing in the Middle East Journal, had a higher assessment of Bronson's study, calling it an example of one of the post-9/11 books that are "more balanced … [and] that are neither sycophantic nor xenophobic." Yet Long also wrote of "unmet potential" in the work, including the book's scope as well as its review of the special relationship between the two countries. Brooks Wrampelmeier, writing in Middle East Policy, found more to like in the book, commenting, "The range and documentation of [Bronson's] research is certainly impressive." Wrampelmeier concluded that the book "deserves a wide readership, not just among Middle East specialists but by foreign-policy makers and other Americans who wish to understand better how this uneasy, though important, relationship came about and why it is in the U.S. interest for it to continue."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Commentary, May, 2006, Jacob Heilbrunn, "Holy Warriors?," p. 78.
Library Journal, April 15, 2006, Elizabeth Hayford, review of Thicker Than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia, p. 92.
Middle East Journal, fall, 2006, David E. Long, review of Thicker Than Oil, p. 808.
Middle East Policy, fall, 2006, Brooks Wrampelmeier, review of Thicker Than Oil, p. 163.
National Interest, January 1, 2007, Michael O'Hanlon, "Beyond Petroleum," p. 78.
Political Science Quarterly, winter, 2006, William B. Quandt, review of Thicker Than Oil, p. 705.
Washington Post Book World, June 4, 2006, Steve Coll, review of Thicker Than Oil, p. 7.
Council on Foreign Relations Web site,http://www.cfr.org/ (April 3, 2006), Bernard Gwertzman, "Bronson: Saudis ‘Deeply Concerned’ over Iran's Nuclear Program."
Washington Post Online,http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (April 24, 2006), online discussion with author.