When the interwar period began, the United States government was little engaged in the Arab World as reflected in the small number of its diplomatic staffing analyzing the area's development. In 1909, the territory overseen by the State Department's “Division of Near Eastern Affairs” (NEA) was vast and included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia, Greece, Turkey (i.e. the Ottoman Empire), Persia, Egypt and the Balkan countries. By 1921, the Balkans were the only European territory remaining in the Division which continued to follow developments in Turkey, the former Ottoman territories in the Arab World, Persia, Egypt and African territories including Abyssinia and the German and Italian colonies. Throughout the period, NEA was also responsible for African territories beyond Egypt, including Abyssinia and the German and Italian colonies.
Washington supported free trade and pushed Great Britain to allow American oil companies into the Arab world, which Britain had planned to restrict to its own companies. Otherwise, the United States government did not see major American political or economic interests in the area. During the interwar period it continued to fence off Latin America and the Caribbean under the century-old Monroe Doctrine, whose definition by then had expanded to justify American hegemony throughout the Western Hemisphere. There was no American commercial counterpart to the United Fruit Company in the Middle East whose fortunes in the Caribbean and Latin America were of such keen concern to Washington that it remained ready to commit military force, if needed, in the company's support.
American Cultural Ties
Starting in the early 19th century, a number of Biblically-inspired American travelers published accounts of their pilgrimages to the Holy Land. While noting its continued inspiration for believers and its elements of exoticism, most agreed with Mark Twain who wrote that “Palestine is desolate and unlovely .... Palestine is no more of this workaday world. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.” Meanwhile, Middle Easters tended to view America as a place to better their fortunes. For some in the Levant, emigration to the United States offered a refuge from the political pressures of the Ottoman Empire, giving them the chance to make a fresh start.
American missionary and educational initiatives have a long history in the Arab World. Before the First World War, there was only one institution of higher learning of American origin in the region: the American University of Beirut (AUB), then known as the Syrian Protestant College, which had been founded in 1866. In his 1939 book The Arab Awakening, Lebanese historian George Antonius credited AUB with having had a greater influence than any other institution on the Arab revival in its early stage “through diffusion of knowledge, of the impetus it gave to literature and science and of the achievements of its graduates...”
The American University in Cairo (AUC) was established in 1919. During the interwar period, both AUB and AUC received financial support from private American sources beyond their income from tuition. Washington provided no direct financial assistance to them until after the Second World War. Both AUB and AUC conducted their courses in the English language and established a reputation for high quality, secular education. They were, and remain today, a singular success for the extension of American soft power.
From 1903 to 1920 the Syrian Protestant College was led by an extraordinary personality, Howard Bliss, who played a role at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. At the time of the Conference, Bliss was recognized as the most respected and influential single American working in the Middle East. Disturbed by reports of positions advocated at Versailles by Britain and France about their intentions to control the former Ottoman territories and by the Zionists' determination to establish a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, Bliss urged the formation of a commission of enquiry into the wishes of the residents of the Holy Land about their political future.
 Office of the State Department Historian, The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), 1988.
 Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, 36.
 Peter Grose, Israel in the Mind of America, 27
 George Antonius, The Arab Awakening, 43.
 In 1951 the State Department extended a minor amount of scholarship assistance to AUB. (1950-51 AUB Annual Report of Dr. Stephen Penrose.) AUC received a major one time financial boost in 1959 when Washington allocated it the “US-owned surplus Egyptian pounds resulting from American wheat sales to Egypt in the 1950's.” (AUC website.)