American diplomats learned the hard way that being tough on Israel does not make it easier to work with the Arab states. That’s one of the key lessons friend-of-Via Meadia Michael Doran shares in his excellent new book about Eisenhower’s Middle East policy. More, from a glowing NYT review by David Frum:
Eisenhower was a pragmatist in the strictest philosophical sense: someone who judges the truth of theories according to their success or failure in practice. He came to office holding one view of the Middle East. When that view failed, he discarded it in favor of another.
But pragmatism of that kind is a very unusual trait, and especially unusual in politicians. Eisenhower may have rethought his gamble on Nasser. The subordinates who executed the policy, however, insisted to the end that any failure was somebody else’s fault. Their self-justifications have reverberated into journalism and history.
“The ‘inside story’ of the Eisenhower administration’s Middle East policy,” Doran writes, “comes to us not from Eisenhower and Dulles but from . . . the very men . . . who were most personally invested in the courtship of Nasser, and who fought against all efforts to abandon it. . . . Muscular Western policies, we learn, will almost always backfire.”
With only a very few edits and updates, this mode of analysis will serve marvelously to excuse any disappointments in the Iran legacy the current generation of policy makers may leave behind. Here’s the lesson that Doran wishes they would learn instead: the error of the belief “that distancing the United States from Israel would win the good will of all Arabs, and especially the Egyptians.” This belief “prevented them from recognizing the deepest drivers of the Arab and Muslim states, namely their rivalries with each other for power and authority.”