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.
On 26 July 1956, in retaliation for the loss of funding and to help pay for the Aswan project, Nasser gave a speech in Alexandria where he denounced Western influence in the Arab world and announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company.
The British tried to stage a phony crisis in order to send in peacekeeping troops that was aborted when Eisenhower threatened to use the Treasury to destroy the British Pound. Eisenhower would later go on to regret it, but the deed was done.