How Eisenhower Tried and Failed to Gain Arab Good Will by Abandoning Israel

October 26, 2016 | Adam Kirsch
About the author: Adam Kirsch, a poet and literary critic, is the author of, among other books, Benjamin Disraeli and The People and The Books: Eighteen Classics of Jewish Literature.

In his recent Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East, Michael Doran argues that Dwight D. Eisenhower’s relations with Egypt were based on a faulty assumption that restraining and forcing concessions from Britain, France, and Israel would win over Gamal Abdel Nasser, who would then serve as a secular, modernizing, anti-Communist ally for the U.S. This approach failed disastrously not—as generally held—because America carried it out incompletely but because it was simply wrongheaded. Adam Kirsch writes in his review:

The root of Eisenhower’s mistake, Doran argues, was to see the Arab world as a monolithic entity, with Nasser at its helm. In order to appear as an “honest broker” in the Middle East, Eisenhower distanced the U.S. from its traditional allies in order to accommodate Nasser, which he believed would win America the affection of the Arabs at large. What this failed to account for, Doran believes, is that the Arab world was itself riven by national enmities, power struggles, and ideological disagreements. . . .

Egypt’s rise meant trouble for Saudi Arabia, which since the days of FDR had been America’s most important Arab ally (and oil supplier). And it spelled disaster for Israel, which was later forced to fight much more serious wars against Egypt in 1967 and 1973. Neither the U.S. nor the region reaped any benefits from the Nasserist order that Eisenhower helped to sponsor. . . .

[Ike’s Gamble makes] an implicit but unmistakable argument about America’s Middle East policy today. Any reader . . . who is even a little familiar with the current situation will be able to draw the lines connecting Ike with Obama, and Egypt with Iran. Once again, Doran implies, an American president has fallen prey to the delusion that favoring one particular Muslim state is the same thing as being an honest broker with the Muslim world. And once again, this approach has succeeded only in emboldening America’s enemies and endangering its friends, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel. This makes Ike’s Gamble a timely intervention into current debates. Obama won’t read it, but Hillary Clinton should.

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