#Hagel got Eisenhower very, very wrong

In an earlier post, I noted Chuck Hagel’s admiration for the 34th President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, specifically for Eisenhower’s handling of what’s known in Israel as the Sinai campaign (the 1956 war between Israel, Britain and France on one side and Egypt on the other). I also reported that Hagel had it all wrong, because Eisenhower later believed that making Israel withdraw from Sinai was the biggest mistake of his Presidency.

Lee Smith has a lot more details about Eisenhower’s regrets over the Sinai campaign.


In fact, Eisenhower came to believe
that Suez had been the “biggest foreign-policy blunder of his
administration.” In hindsight, it’s not hard to see why. He ruined the
position of two longtime allies, effectively driving Britain out of the
Middle East once and for all, and without any benefit to American
interests. If Eisenhower expected Nasser to be grateful, he was sorely
mistaken.



“From Nasser’s perspective, he played the superpowers against each
other and came out the winner,” says Michael Doran, a senior fellow at
the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. “What
Ike thought he was doing was laying the groundwork for a new order in
the Middle East, a third course between the re-imposition of European
colonialism and the Soviet Union. But all Eisenhower did was strengthen
Nasser and destabilize the region.”



Doran, a former George W. Bush Administration National Security
Council staffer in charge of the Middle East, is finishing a book about
Eisenhower and the Middle East that looks at how Eisenhower’s
understanding of the region changed over time. “Eisenhower slammed his
allies and aided his enemies at Suez,” Doran explains, “because his
policy was based on certain key assumptions of how the Arab world
worked. The most important of these was the notion of Arab unity. He
believed they would respond as a bloc to certain stimuli.”


Chief among them, Eisenhower and his Secretary of State John Foster
Dulles believed, was the Arab-Israeli conflict. They saw the role of the
United States then as playing the honest broker, mediating between
Israel on one side and the Arab world on the other. If this conceit is
still popular today with American policymakers, says Doran, “it’s partly
because some Arab officials continue to talk this way. The idea is, to
win over the Arabs we have to stop being so sympathetic to Israel.”



But in the wake of Suez, Eisenhower came to see the region through a
different lens. He paid more attention to what Arab leaders actually
did, rather than what they said. “Between March 1957 and July 1958,
Eisenhower got the equivalent of the Arab spring,” says Doran. “It was a
revolutionary wave around the region and for Ike a tutorial on Arab
politics. There was upheaval after upheaval, in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan,
Saudi Arabia, and then the Iraqi revolution of 1958 that toppled an
American ally. All of them were internal conflicts, tantamount to Arab
civil wars, and had nothing to do with Israel. With this, Eisenhower
recognized that the image he had of the Arab world had nothing to do
with the political realities of the Middle East.”

Read the whole thing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Obama has the same mistaken conception of the Middle East that Eisenhower had in 1956. Today’s it’s known as linkage. By 1958, Eisenhower had dismissed it as a policy strategy. Don’t bet on Obama doing the same.

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