Eisenhower’s Footprint in The Middle East

Ike’s Gamble by Michael Doran is an account of the 1956 Suez Crisis with a perspective different from many previous ones which were directed from narratives from CIA players at the time.

The United States under Eisenhower supported the rise of independent nations and the decline of colonialism. The CIA and the State Department opposed the recognition of Israel under Truman and remained consistent in that position under Eisenhower. Recognition of Israel in their view stood against American interests (as they saw it), and stood to alienate us from the Arab world and possibly drive them into the communist sphere.

For the CIA and the State Department Gamal Nasser stood as a leader of the Arabs in the Middle East and deserved the support of the United States. When Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal the British, French and Israelis conspired a plan to retake the canal with force. Eisenhower stood with Nasser and strongly against his former allies and forced them to withdraw.

Britain’s Churchill and Anthony Eden warned of the consequences of surrendering such power to Nasser, comparing it to the appeasement of Hitler at Munich. Eisenhower rejected this approach, sensing that colonialization was a dying institution and Arab nationalization was an inevitable growing specter. He allied American power accordingly.

Nasser’s success in the campaign elevated him to hero status in the Middle East and he expanded his power quickly; allying with Syria, and likely promoting the bloody coup is Iraq in 1958. Nasser also embraced Soviet influence in a way that alarmed Eisenhower. The President quickly regretted his decision and took action to save Lebanon and Jordan from encroaching Egyptian power. Eisenhower tried unsuccessfully to promote a northern alliance with Iraq and Iran and Pakistan and wished to make the Saudis a center of power. This infuriated Nasser as a direct threat to his power.

Nasser became bolder, broke his promises to the U.S., militarized the Sinai, and amassed a serious enough threat to Israel that they attacked Egypt in the 1967 war and devastated Nasser and his power.  Eisenhower retired supported and praised the Israeli move. Israel accomplished in 1967 what the British wanted to do in 1956, but the Mideast had substantially changed in the interim.

Eisenhower regretted his decision during the Suez Crisis, but once he realized his mistake he took corrective action. Other opinions at State blame our failure to support Nasser as much as we should have earlier, driving them into the Soviet sphere.

Eisenhower learned that Israel was not the main driving issue that State made it to be.  There were much greater contests for power between rival Arab countries such as Iraq and Egypt than there was between Israel and the rest of the Mideast.  Israel was a useful common enemy.  Ike realized that the chances for Pan Arab unity was nil.

Israel went from being the pariah of the State Department to a useful ally, and relations were re-established with our French and British allies.

The negotiations before and during the crisis were complicated and trying.  Very experienced and knowledgeable players in American foreign policy made rational and morally guided decisions with the focus on American interests and badly blundered.  They believed things to be true that were not, and underestimated the organic friction with other powers in the region. Foreign policy is the most treacherous of political arenas.

The best we can hope for is to recognize errors when we make them and correct them as honestly and quickly as we are able.  The CIA and State likely suffered the problems of an undiversified bubble mentality that was unable to consider options and views that became clear only too late.

Ike’s Gamble was a great read on the history and policy of the crisis, but it is also a valuable look at the difficulty and complexity of foreign policy.

Isolationism on the Left and Right


from The World According to Trump by Charles Krauthammer in National Review:

Both the Left and the Right have a long history of advocating American retreat and retrenchment. The difference is that liberals want to come home because they think we are not good enough for the world. Conservatives want to wash their hands of the world because they think the world is not good enough for us.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/434717/donald-trump-foreign-policy-america-first


The Loss of American Competitiveness


from The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

Experts on economic competitiveness, like Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, define the term to include the ability of government to pass effective laws; the protection of physical and intellectual property rights and lack of corruption; the efficiency of the legal framework, including modest costs and swift adjudication; the ease of setting up a new business; and effective and predictable regulations.  It is startling to find out how poorly the United States now fares when judged by these criteria.  In a 2011 survey, Porter and his colleagues asked HBS alumni about 607 instances of decisions on whether or not to offshore operations.  The United States retained the business in just 96 cases(16%) and lost it in all of the rest. Asked why they favored foreign locations, the respondents listed the areas where they saw the U.S. falling further behind the rest of the world.  The top ten reasons included:

  1.  The effectiveness of the political system
  2. The complexity of the tax code
  3.  Regulation
  4. The efficiency of the legal frameworks
  5. Flexibility in hiring and firing

The Hobbesian Optimist

From Bret Stephens at the WSJ,  Barack Obama Checks Out:

Summing up the president’s worldview, Mr. Goldberg describes him as a “Hobbesian optimist”—which philosophically must be the equivalent of a Jew for Jesus. But Mr. Obama has shown that he lacks Hobbes’s understanding that Leviathan must fill the vacuums that will otherwise be filled by an ISIS or a Putin, or an optimist’s belief that American power can shape the world for the better.

The French diplomat Charles de Talleyrand once said of the (restored) Bourbon dynasty that “they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” Given the mix of score-settling and delusion on display in this interview, that may well be the president’s foreign-policy epitaph, too.

A Policy of Impatience

stills from film "Fury"

from Victor Davis Hanson in National Review Online, The Costs of Abandoning Messy Wars

Donald Trump has rightly reminded us during his campaign that Americans are sick and tired of costly overseas interventions. But what Trump forgets is that too often the world does not always enjoy a clear choice between good and bad, wise and stupid. Often the dilemma is the terrible choice between ignoring mass murderer, as in Rwanda or Syria; bombing and leaving utter chaos, as in Libya; and removing monsters, then enduring the long ordeal of trying to leave something better, as in Afghanistan and Iraq.The choices are all awful.

But the idea that America can bomb a rogue regime, leave, and expect something better is pure fantasy.

Because we spend more time demonizing the leaders than trying to understand the circumstances of their decisions, we fail to learn the lessons.  Thus those who criticized the Bush decisions in Iraq and only spoke of his incompetence, proceeded to make the same mistake in Libya only a few years later.