Modern History and Politics-America and Egypt: From Roosevelt to Eisenhower

By Little, Douglas | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview

Modern History and Politics-America and Egypt: From Roosevelt to Eisenhower


Little, Douglas, The Middle East Journal


America and Egypt: From Roosevelt to Eisenhower, by Matthew F. Holland. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1996. xxxii + 174 pages. Bibl. to p. 180. Index to p. 187. $55. Reviewed by Douglas Little

Few issues from the recent past have been the focus of as many scholarly books and articles over the last decade as the stormy US relationship with Egyptian president Jamal `Abd al-Nasir that was punctuated by the Suez crisis. Although Matthew Holland's America and Egypt: From Roosevelt to Eisenhower contains one or two interesting nuggets mined from archives on both sides of the Atlantic, this monograph confirms the view that the law of diminishing returns has finally hit what was once one of diplomatic history's growth industries.

In his preface, Holland pronounces most of the existing literature badly flawed and promises to "set the record straight" on everythinq from the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) role in Nasir's coup d'etat to the origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine, which some readers may be surprised to learn "became the blueprint for the 1991 Gulf War" (xiii-xiv). What he delivers, however, is a slim volume of garden-variety commentary about some well-travelled historical terrain, spiced with one or two glaring factual errors. To set the record straight at the start, Dag Hammarskjold was not a "stoic Dane" (p. 95) but rather an epicurean Swede, and the "notorious" (p. 129) Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed in 1964 and not in 1965.

Holland's interpretation of American-Egyptian relations from 1945 to 1960 is almost as erratic as his handling of historical facts. His overarching hypothesis-that most of Washington's troubles with Cairo stemmed from the failure of US policy makers to understand what L. Carl Brown has called "the rules of the game" for international politics in the Middle East-is certainly provocative. Holland, however, would have done well to make those rules the explicit analytical framework for his book. Likewise, Holland's claim that America's fear of Communism and its fascination with nation building predisposed US officials to embrace dictators and shun democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Third World has about it the ring of truth; but he never applies this insight systematically to President Dwight Eisenhower's volatile relationship with Nasir. In short, far from giving us a bold new interpretation of an old story, Holland has written a quirky and sometimes self-contradictory book that is unlikely to outsell the earlier accounts he criticizes so frequently.

Holland's prologue and first two chapters briefly survey Franklin D. Roosevelt's and Harry S. Truman's policies towards Egypt and raise almost as many questions as they answer. His four-page account of the Roosevelt era, for example, makes the obvious point that the lofty rhetoric of the Atlantic Charter was inconsistent with Britain's self-serving imperial objectives in Egypt; but he never makes it clear whether King Faruk or other Egyptians called this inconsistency to Roosevelt's attention. Holland's examination of the Truman administration's plans for a "New Deal" in Egypt likewise seems somewhat out of focus. On the one hand, Holland gives Secretary of State Dean Acheson high marks for advocating a reformist agenda in Cairo, but on the other, he gives Acheson's chief Middle East expert, George McGhee, failing grades for his knee-jerk antiCommunism and for his disdain for Third World nationalism, attitudes that McGhee shared with his boss. …

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