ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT Caught in the Middle East: U.S. Policy Toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1945-1961, by Peter L. Hahn. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. x + 293 pages. Notes to p. 366. Bibl. to p. 387. Index to p. 398. $45.
For some time, accounts of US responses to the Arab-Israeli conflict following World War II tended to regard American policymakers as intentionally driven decision-makers, and authors often emphasized the impact of domestic factors when crafting their explanations. Peter L. Hahn's new book presents a more complex view, one that sees domestic factors at work but primarily portrays the Truman and Eisenhower administrations as repeatedly trapped by their desires to advance competing regional and global interests when formulating policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ultimately, each administration chose to pursue initiatives it reasoned would limit the Soviet Union's access to the region, even if the result undermined US relationships with key Arab states and Israel or confined America's capacity to forge accommodation between the parties. Though Hahn judges that both Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower were relatively successful at attaining their strategic containment goals in the Middle East during this period, their choices "caught" the United States in the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict and established policy precedents and regional expectations for American centrality in Arab-Israeli peacemaking that persist to the present.
Hahn's work is first notable for the depth and care of his research. He has mined numerous collections of documents and letters in American, British, and Israeli archives to fashion an intimate historical rendering of events between 1945 and 1961 that attains his aim: "to empathize with all sides to the Arab-Israeli dispute but to sympathize with none" (p. 9). And although Hahn seeks to focus on the global pressures shaping America's policies toward the Arab-Israeli conflict in this period, he is quite effective at describing the internal policy conflicts that continually pitted portions of the US foreign policymaking establishment against members of the White House staff and Congress. Similarly, his accounts of the means Israel used to mobilize support for its aims within differing American quarters are often vivid and he tells an intriguing story of how US officials repeatedly sought to resolve inconsistencies between the demands of the Atlantic alliance and American national objectives in the Middle East, as Britain and the US were switching roles in the international arena.
In addition, his work offers interesting insights, some of which may constitute correctives over previous accounts. Overall, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations emerge from the book as almost mirror images of one another in their approach to Arab-Israeli tensions. Truman's early involvement was episodic and inconsistent as he tried to accommodate the many conflicting demands emanating from tensions in Palestine, only to generate displeasure among all involved. With the outlines of the Cold War clearer by 1949, however, America's commitment to containing Soviet designs in the region became more focused, and Truman officials inserted themselves in Arab-Israeli diplomacy primarily when they believed the Soviets could exploit impending hostilities, such as during the 1951-52 dispute between Israel and Syria over Lake Huleh. …