This paper examines the relationship between U.S. foreign policy interests and Middle East expertise. Drawing on three distinct but related case studies, it discusses how the U.S. government sought to cultivate knowledge on foreign areas during times of real or perceived crisis. From the attack on Pearl Harbor to Sputnik to the U.S.’s Global War on Terror, national emergencies have shaped the U.S. government’s interactions with academia. During the early Cold War period, Washington sought a consistent supply of candidates for government service to support its growing international commitments. To achieve this goal, U.S. government agencies found willing allies among universities, academic societies, and philanthropic foundations. The mutually beneficial relationship between governmental and non-governmental institutions, I argue, was essential to the development and formalization of area studies in the United States. Yet as this paper demonstrates, these efforts were not always successful or had unintended consequences. As relations with academia soured in the 1960s, American policymakers increasingly relied on expertise which reinforced Washington’s foreign policy goals. The paper concludes that think tanks benefited from this shift in the perception of area knowledge and greater American involvement in the Middle East.