Focus on US Policy: From the Eisenhower Doctrine to the War in Iraq

By Sterner, Michael | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

Focus on US Policy: From the Eisenhower Doctrine to the War in Iraq


Sterner, Michael, The Middle East Journal


Focus on US Policy: From the Eisenhower Doctrine to the War in Iraq Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East, by Salim Yaqub. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 337 pages. $59.95 cloth; $22.95 paper.

L'Orient arabe à l'heure américaine: De la guerre du Golfe à la guerre d'Irak [The Arab World in America's Hour: From the Gulf War to the Iraq War], by Henry Laurens. Paris: Armand Colin/S.EJ.E.R., 2004. 303 pages. 19 euros.

Secrets and Lies: Operation "Iraqi Freedom" and After, by Dilip Hiro. New York: Nation Books, 2004. xxvii + 468 pages. $14.95.

Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East, by Rashid Khalidi. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2004. xiv + 223 pages. $23.

Since World War II no area of the world has given American policy makers more headaches than the Middle East. Even leaving aside the complications of domestic politics, the region has presented a confusing array of conflicting objectives. Our commitment to Israel, growing more one-sided with the passage of time, has conflicted with our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Arab peoples, desirable both to resist Soviet encroachments during the Cold War, and to preserve the availability of oil resources to the West. The rivalry between nationalist and conservative regimes among Arab states further complicated matters. Our early unsuccessful efforts to confront and defeat nationalist movements were followed by an effort to get along with them, but this in turn was defeated by the persistence of the struggle between nationalists and conservatives. And throughout this period, Washington's determination to see the rivalries and tensions in this part of the world in Cold War terms, rather than as a struggle between nationalist movements and established regimes, has proven to be a further handicap to sound policy.

Recognizing at least some of this, successive American administrations have sought to make progress toward resolving the Arab-Israel conflict, or at least, encourage negotiations to relieve tensions. There have been periods when progress has been made - agreement on United Nations security Council Resolution 242 after the 1967 war, the three partial agreements negotiated by Henry Kissinger (secretary of State 1973-77) following the 1973 war, Camp David, and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty during the Carter Administration, President George H.W. Bush and secretary of State James Baker bringing the parties to Madrid in 1991, and President Bill Clinton's effort in the last year of his presidency to resolve issues in an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. But there were also long periods when our efforts have been feeble, inconsistent, and readily abandoned in the face of difficulties, whether caused by impediments to the negotiations, or by perceived electoral disadvantages at home. As the result of the latter, our political campaigns, even the two-year US House of Representatives cycle, have generally been seen as periods when a strong policy on this issue was out of the question. Forever hopeful, presidents arrive in office seeking the magic bullet - a negotiating formula that hasn't been tried before, the presidential emissary with the golden touch - that would create a breakthrough and save them from having to invest major political capital in the effort (the only magic bullet that ever came along to help the United States, was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat). Frustrated at the frontal approach, we have tried flanking movements, such as initiatives on water and the refugee problem, on reaching understandings about arms control and nuclear development, and various schemes promoting economic cooperation. None of these has borne fruit.

When the outlook for conflict resolution appeared bleak, we have also sought to divert the Arabs from their dissatisfaction by persuading them that geopolitical considerations - resisting the expansion of Soviet influence, and more recently Islamic extremism - were more important than the Arab-Israel conflict.

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