The Arab Middle East and the United States: Inter-Arab Rivalry and Superpower Diplomacy / the United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960

By Eilts, Hermann Frederick | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1996 | Go to article overview

The Arab Middle East and the United States: Inter-Arab Rivalry and Superpower Diplomacy / the United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960


Eilts, Hermann Frederick, The Middle East Journal


The Arab Middle East and the United States: Inter-Arab Rivalry and Superpower Diplomacy, by Burton I. Kaufman. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996. xvii + 184 pages. Chron. to p. 222. Notes to p. 255. Bibl. Essay to p. 281. Index to p. 291. $26.95 cloth; $16.95 paper.

The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, by Bonnie F. Saunders. Westport, CT and London: Praeger Publishers, 1996. x + 97 pages. Bibl. to p. 109. Index to p. 115. $49.95.

Reviewed by Hermann Frederick Eilts Professor Burton Kaufman's book surveys US policy toward the Arab world in the eventful half century that spanned the Truman and Bush administrations. Such an extensive endeavor mandates synthesis and selectivity of data. It also risks pitfalls inherent in any broad overview.

Two themes suffuse the author's exposition: First, from the end of World War II until recently, every US president gave preeminence to the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union. In consequence, myopically, the author contends, no independent, coherent US regional policy for the Arab world ever emerged. Second, chronic interArab rivalry effectively dissipated Arab influence in the international arena. Rhetorical Arab nationalism rarely translated into cohesive unity. These factors enabled Israel to forge ever closer links with the United States.

The Soviet decision in the early 1950s to side with the Arabs, particularly Egypt and Syria, propelled the Arab-Israeli conflict into the Cold War orbit. American leaders tended thereafter to assess discrete elements of the malignant ArabIsraeli controversy in terms of checkmating the Soviets rather than on their intrinsic merits. The author shows admirable balance in dealing with the emotion-laden Arab-Israeli issue.

The highlights of successive presidential policies toward the Arab states are laid out deftly. President Harry S. Truman's (1945-53) decision to recognize Israel deeply divided senior US government circles. Opponents voiced concern that such action would impair continued US access to Saudi Arabian oil. The vital importance of Middle East oil nevertheless prompted Truman, late in his term, to shift from criminal to civil litigation in an anti-trust suit filed by the United States against major American oil companies. Even that case was eventually allowed to lapse.

Security, i.e., containment of the Soviet Union, figured prominently in both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Under Truman, the British-inspired, US-supported Middle East Command and Middle East Defense Organization proposals were mooted. They were aborted when Egypt refused to participate. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61), the "northern tier" concept was conceived. This resulted in the formation in 1955 of the Baghdad Pact, which included Iraq. Toothless though that organization was, Washington viewed it as part of a global series of containment alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO).

The author suggests the Baghdad Pact was largely a British notion. He is equivocal on the extent of US responsibility for its creation. In fact, the United States, while contenting itself for various reasons with observer status, selectively pressed the idea of such an alliance; provided the bulk of economic and military aid to members, partly as a reward for participation; and assigned official personnel to the Pact secretariat, including an army major general to head its Combined Military Planning Staff.

Equally salient from a security perspective was the passage, in 1957, of the Joint Congressional Resolution on the Middle East, generally dubbed the "Eisenhower Doctrine," which sought to fill a perceived vacuum in the Middle East after the Anglo-French debacle at Suez the previous year. Kaufman observes that Eisenhower first tested that resolution when sending US troops to Lebanon in 1958. …

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