Commentary Magazine


Misreading the Middle East

The five years or so which have elapsed since the Yom Kippur War have seen the United States sustain two very serious setbacks in the Middle East. In a surprisingly short space of time, the regime of the Shah—a principal U.S. ally in the area—has crumbled, while the new rulers of Iran are unstable, unpredictable, and unfriendly. Nobody can tell what the repercussions of these remarkable events will turn out to be, but it is sure beyond peradventure that, even in the best of circumstances, U.S. interests (public as well as private) and U.S. influence in Iran and in the region generally will have sustained a severe blow.

Ironically enough, the ally who has now been destroyed was himself chiefly instrumental in inflicting the other major defeat suffered during this decade by the U.S. (and the West generally) in the Middle East. It is notorious that the Shah was the most eager and the most pressing in persuading his confederates in OPEC to increase again and again the price of oil—an increase the economic and political consequences of which are as incalculable as they are ruinous. Ruinous, not only to OPEC’s victims but also, as recent events have, again ironically, shown, to the Shah himself. He might still be on his throne had he not, dazzled by his easy spoils, spent and spent and spent, thus shaking, destabilizing, and discomforting hitherto immobile and obedient masses.

Great as the reverses over oil and in Iran have been, the agents who brought them about, compared to the United States in point of power and resources, are puny and insignificant; and furthermore, it could not possibly be argued that these were the instruments or puppets of another superpower which was effecting indirectly what it could not accomplish directly. If things have come to such a pass, it is, then, the policies which the United States chose to follow in the Middle East that must have been responsible.

The preponderance of the United States in Middle Eastern affairs is relatively recent, dating from not much before the end of World War II. It was Saudi Arabian oil, and later a global strategy made necessary by Soviet hostility, which led to U.S. involvement in the area. If, in the decades following the war, the U.S. attempted to play an imperial role in the Middle East, the manner in which it played this role was very different from that of Britain and France who had preceded the U.S. as dominant powers. These two empires did actually occupy and administer—for longer or shorter periods—Middle Eastern territories. This on the whole gave them a feel for the political realities of the region, and a grasp of what is necessary for gaining and keeping power. The U.S., on the other hand, never occupied or administered Middle Eastern territories. And what is more, it adopted, as a dominant power in the region, a paradoxically anti-imperial stance.

The character of this stance in the formation period of U.S. dominance has now been described and documented for us in Phillip J. Baram’s excellent study, The Department of State in the Middle East 1919-19451 As Baram shows, anti-imperialism was a prejudice which foreign-service officers and departmental officials shared with their political superiors, whether in the State Department or the White House. So long as U.S. policy concerned itself only with safeguarding private and business interests in the region, and with insuring an open door for commercial enterprise, such sentiment was of little consequence. It was otherwise when the U.S. joined the war against the Axis, and needed to formulate a policy over strategic and political issues.

The formulation of this policy, Baram demonstrates, was heavily influenced and at times determined by the officials in the Near Eastern division and in the postwar planning division of the State Department, as well as by the views of foreign-services officers stationed in Arab capitals. The names of Wallace Murray, Paul Ailing, Loy Henderson, George Wadsworth, William Eddy, Christina Grant, and William Yale are probably not very well-known to the general public, nor on examination do the originality, penetration, or sagacity of their views on the Middle East entitle them to any wide recognition. But by virtue of their official positions, their views enjoyed a privileged access to the highest political authorities who, even if they did not always agree with them, learned to see the Middle East and its problems, as well as the options open to the United States, in the light of the assumptions which over the years they encountered in the dispatches, minutes, and policy papers of these officials.

As representative of their outlook, we may instance Loy Henderson, appointed envoy to Iraq in 1943 and made director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs in 1945. In the latter post, Henderson, Baram writes,

turned out to be a vociferous foe of France in the Levant. His frequent memoranda were presented as dire and urgent philippics. French tactics, he inveighed, “are similar to those used by the Japanese in Manchukuo and by the Italians in Ethiopia,” as well as to those “pursued by Russia in Eastern Europe.” France disgraced the Allies, destroyed the confidence of little countries in great powers, and dealt a blow to the prestige of the infant UN organization and the recently convened San Francisco Conference. As for France’s wish for preeminence in the Levant, none at all should be countenanced, said Henderson, even on the level of education, language, and culture. The French have no rights in the Levant, indeed had none even when the mandate was legal.

It is not only in retrospect that Henderson’s stance may be queried. What purpose, one might have asked even in 1945, would be served by the anti-French policy so unhesitatingly advocated? Again, the parallel drawn among the Japanese in Manchuria, the Italians in Ethiopia, Russia in Eastern Europe, and the French in the Levant was so clearly exorbitant as to bring into serious question this official’s judgment.

But Henderson’s views were neither eccentric nor isolated. We learn, for instance, that in 1944 the State Department’s interdivisional committee on Arab countries went so far in its eagerness to destroy the French position in the Levant as to recommend the nationalization of key French financial interests in Syria and Lebanon. Collaboration with the Soviet Union in the same righteous cause was also welcomed: “It was believed,” Baram tells us, “that mutual anti-imperialism would put Moscow and Washington on the same side of the barricades against the French. That position in turn stood to enhance Soviet-American cooperation on other problems.” What other problems? Puerile as it may sound, the belief of the State Department officials was that a Soviet-American gang-up against the French in the Levant would actually make the Soviets easier to deal with on the Polish question. But it was not only in the Levant that Soviet cooperation was desired. In Palestine, it was also believed, Soviet-British-American cooperation would strengthen “progressives” and “moderates” among both Arabs and Jews against the “extremists” on both sides, and lead to the creation of a binational state there. The misjudgment was just as grievous as in the Levant, and in both cases argues a failure alike to appraise the local situation, to fathom the character and aims of Soviet policy, and to think out United States interests and objectives in what was, admittedly, a new and unfamiliar situation. This intellectual failure stemmed as much from commitment to a naive anti-imperialist ideology as from inexperience plain and simple.

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In the case of Saudi Arabia, however, ideology seemed to be the perfect handmaiden of American interests—interests which, although private, were fast becoming quite substantial and beginning even to have a bearing on political and strategic issues. Through a combination of shrewdness and good luck, American oil companies obtained a license to prospect in Saudi Arabia. They found extensive deposits and began exporting Saudi oil in 1988. When, some three years later, the United States joined the war and began to be politically active in the Middle East, the opportunity to displace the British as Ibn Saud’s patron and protector began to seem literally golden. Anti-imperialist sentiment, no doubt genuine and deeply held, was also seen to be profitable.

It was now that there began that deliberate and continuous process of magnifying and aggrandizing Saudi Arabia—a poor, sparsely populated country dependent on foreign benevolence, where a form of Islam highly repugnant to the generality of Muslims held sway. Saudi Arabia’s only importance was that it contained vast amounts of oil which, however, it was utterly incapable of extracting. It was then that there was inaugurated the style of respectful and awed flattery in which it became customary for the President of the United States to address the King of Saudi Arabia. This style is perhaps best exemplified by the locution “Great and Good Friend” with which Roosevelt’s missives—drafted by the State Department—began. It was clearly believed that if only British influence could be eliminated, a warm and exclusive American-Saudi special relationship could be established and maintained. But, of course, one had to be vigilant against all imperialist incursions. Thus, during 1942, the idea was mooted that Ibn Saud might be helped to pay off his debts with Jewish funds secured through Zionist good offices, and that this would facilitate a settlement in Palestine. It is highly probable that the scheme would have come to nothing. But Wallace Murray, then head of the State Department’s Division of Near Eastern Affairs, was greatly disturbed by it, and his extravagant language in rejecting it indicates not only the cast of his mind and his implicit assumptions, but also how great the umbrage he would take at anything which might threaten, however slightly, the intimate coziness of U.S.-Saudi relations. If the Jewish loan to Ibn Saud went through, he feared that “Zionists could extend their influence and activities outside Palestine,” and this “appears to have the character of economic imperialism backed by international sanction.” “Economic imperialism”: the vulgar catchwords of Marxism strike an incongruous note in the memoranda of this high State Department official.

The attempt to edge out the British from Saudi Arabia and secure the exclusive friendship of Ibn Saud involved more than epistolary magniloquence. State Department officials were willing to recognize without question Ibn Saud’s right to have a say in the settlement of the Palestine problem, and make far-reaching, albeit elastic, promises about it. Thus, in a letter of 1943 drafted in the Near Eastern division for Roosevelt’s signature (which the President only slightly watered down), Ibn Saud was assured that no decision would be taken until after he had been “fully consulted and his agreement sought.” This line of policy seems to have been adopted as a matter of course, as though it were axiomatic that Saudi Arabia—as well as other Arab states—had a right to a say in the affairs of Palestine.

This, indeed, was what the British had decided, as an act of policy, to assume in 1939. But it did not follow that the United States should automatically do likewise. There were cogent reasons for it not to do so. Palestine was a controversial issue in U.S. politics, and a wise policy would have seen to it that the two partners in policy-making—i.e., the Executive and the Senate—would act in harmony, or at least would not pull in different directions. In Palestine specifically, it was not evident that the cause of peace would be served or U.S. interests advanced if one side should be favored or supported at the expense of the other. Yet this was, as Baram shows, precisely the implicit assumption in State Department thinking. Writing of George Wadsworth, who served in various Middle Eastern posts before and during World War II, Baram remarks that he

in effect misled his Arab hearers with his constant maximal pledges of American support and with his concomitant downgrading of any American interest in Zionism. Thus, whenever an American political leader endorsed a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the Arabs felt, variously, that it was mere electioneering, or that they were being betrayed by America, and/or that a Jewish conspiracy of wealth and the media in America had caused a reversal. For had not State Department officers like Wadsworth conditioned and assured them for years that American foreign policy was anti-Zionist? I would submit [Baram goes on to say] that the State Department’s practice of such self-deception and deception of the Arabs—as if, in the making of American foreign policy, presidential, congressional, and domestic opinion counted for naught—was as much a cause of the Arabs’ evolving hostility to the U.S. as the substantive fact that after the war American Presidents did support the right of a Jewish state to exist.

Baram speculates that this tendency by officials to play down or misinterpret inconvenient political declarations led James Byrnes, the Secretary of State in 1945, to issue an instruction to foreign-service posts in the Middle East that they “should not (repeat not) unless otherwise instructed attempt to comment on . . . or interpret . . . in any way” a statement made by President Truman favoring the immigration of Jewish refugees to Palestine.

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Between 1945 and 1948, the United States became heavily involved in Middle Eastern politics and particularly in the Palestine conflict. In this conflict, a large number of parties and interests were deeply engaged, and it was by no means easy for a great power like the United States, with a multitude of interests and considerations to reconcile, to adopt a policy that would minimize damage, if not maximize gain. All the more difficult in that public opinion, Congress, the President, and the State Department held different views and varied them from time to time. A hesitant and indecisive stance was therefore to be expected, and it may be that, as Nadav Safran remarks in his Israel: The Embattled Ally,2 such hesitation actually made the conflict worse, and that a clearer and more decisive policy would have prevented armed intervention by the Arab states. In the circumstances of 1947, partition was the most promising solution, and resolute public support for it by the United States and Britain would most probably have limited the immediate violence and avoided the long-drawn-out, festering, and ever-widening conflict. In the event, the U.S. first supported partition, then suddenly abandoned it at the last minute only to support it once more and recognize the provisional government of the new state of Israel. It is well known that partition was unpopular in the State Department, and that in recognizing Israel, Truman went against the advice of the officials dealing with the Middle East. One of these officials, William Eddy, who had served as envoy to Saudi Arabia and was a most fervent advocate of the Saudi connection, resigned from the State Department in protest. His gesture may be taken to symbolize widely-held sympathies and aversions which even now are still much in evidence.

The years following the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war showed that the U.S., which was now a dominant power in the Middle East, had not really thought out a coherent policy—a policy which would articulate its principal interests in the region and relate them to the realities of the local situation. An obvious overriding interest was to maintain stability and, in the absence of an Arab-Israeli peace treaty, to prevent new hostility. In May 1950, a U.S.-Anglo-French Declaration was published pledging the signatories to regulate the supply of weapons to both sides, and affirming their opposition to any attempt to modify by force the boundaries laid down by the Arab-Israel armistice agreements. A chain is as weak as its weakest link, and the sequel proved that more than one link in this policy had as much solidity as melting butter.

For the policy of the tripartite declaration to work, the solidarity of its signatories had to remain strong and unimpaired. But the policies which the U.S. followed in the next few years were not calculated to preserve mutual confidence. The U.S. did not prove itself solicitous of British interests in Egypt. After the military coup d’état which brought Nasser to power, the U.S. strongly pressed the British to evacuate the Suez Canal Zone in exchange for some elastic and minimal, not to say meaningless, pledges by Egypt. This was presumably done in order to secure the good will and friendship of the Egyptian military regime—a regime which U.S. officials seriously believed would promote the welfare of the Egyptian people, and was therefore worth supporting. But if this was the calculation—and as a calculation it was manifestly faulty and absurd—then it did not jibe with the other line of policy which was followed at the same time. This was the policy that led to the Baghdad Pact, in which Iraq was given pride of place.

The Baghdad Pact policy proved both costly and unprofitable. Because it gave Iraq the primacy among Arab states, it alienated Nasser, who thereupon turned to the Soviets and made the famous arms deal of September 1955. The policy also alienated the French who believed that it would enable Iraq to dominate Syria which they looked upon as their protégé. Prohibitive as the cost of the Baghdad Pact policy proved to be, it yielded no profit. Perhaps the only way it could have done so was if the U.S. had given it unqualified support. But this the U.S. failed to do. Not only would it not join the pact, but its action undermined the power and prestige of Britain, the pact’s principal Western member, and exposed the rulers of Iraq to a radical ideological onslaught which in the end ruined them, and put paid to both pact and policy. The Baghdad Pact policy made sense if Iraq was to be supported, and the machinations of its rival, Egypt, opposed and counteracted. It was, therefore, logical that the U.S. should deny Nasser financing for the Aswan dam. What made no sense at all was for the U.S. then to side with the Soviet Union and turn ferociously against its own NATO allies, Britain and France, when they took up Nasser’s challenge and sought to bring him down in the Suez expedition. The actions of the U.S. in the autumn of 1956 ruined the British and French position in the Middle East, and left the U.S. singlehandedly to cope with a determined and activist Soviet Union in the region. The triumph which the U.S. procured for Nasser made the appeal of his radicalism irresistible in the Arab world. This eventually led to the downfall of the monarchy in Iraq, and to a civil war in Lebanon in which the U.S. had to intervene by landing marines in Beirut.

By its uncompromising opposition to the Suez expedition, the U.S. saved Nasser from a disaster. But no profit was obtained from this action which, as the sequel showed, proved very costly to the friends and allies of the U.S. and thus to the U.S. itself. As Nasser’s savior and benefactor, the U.S. could have extracted from him a settlement of the conflict with Israel or at least insisted on conditions which would have made a renewal of hostilities very difficult. Sinai, for instance, could have been demilitarized, and unhindered passage through the Straits of Tiran made the subject of a formal treaty. As it was, this issue was simply covered by a private U.S. undertaking to Israel which, when put to the test in 1967, proved worthless. Again, Egyptian and Israeli armies were kept apart by a UN contingent, the presence of which depended strictly on Egyptian good will—though a unilateral attempt to qualify this unfettered discretion was made in a private memorandum by the tortuous and unreliable Dag Hammarskjöld. This too proved worthless when the crunch came in 1967.

A constitutional government subject to the periodic verdict of the electorate will, of course, now and again introduce changes, and sometimes far-reaching ones, in the direction of foreign policy, and such changes may give rise in an onlooker to puzzlement or even bewilderment. But how much more bewildering was the hurly-burly of U.S. Middle Eastern policy in the 1950′s when the administration was in the hands of one political party, and foreign policy largely in the hands of one man—John Foster Dulles—and thus presumably enjoying the advantage of stability. The spectacle is alarming in its senselessness, the more so that such a great deal depended then—as it depends now—on the steadiness, sagacity, and tough-mindedness of American statesmen.

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The one consistent thread in U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been an abstract and arid “anti-imperialism,” the benefits of which are problematic, not to say illusory, whether for the U.S. itself or for the region. The considerable political and economic support given to Nasser is a case in point. So far as the Egyptians are concerned, such support helped Nasser to inflict on them eighteen years of arbitrary government, a government which attempted to shackle and minutely control the activities of its subjects, and which engaged in expensive and catastrophic adventures abroad.

One act for which John F. Kennedy’s administration was responsible again exemplifies this ill-considered tendency. In September 1962, a coup d’état to which the Egyptians were not strangers toppled the monarchy in Yemen. It was obvious from the beginning that the conspirators faced strong opposition within the country. In order to quell it, Nasser promptly sent an expeditionary force which, however, in five years of fighting (during which the Egyptians went so far as to use poison gas against pro-monarchical villages) proved unequal to the task of establishing his protégés securely in power. Nasser waged war in the Yemen not for the sake of the conspirators, but in order to gain a foothold in the Arabian peninsula from which to threaten and eventually overwhelm the Saudis, and lay his hands on their oil. It would not have been very difficult in 1962 to guess that this was indeed Nasser’s object. Why then did the Kennedy administration hasten, as early as December 1962, to recognize the new regime? This act of recognition, taking place as it did when it was by no means clear that the conspirators were in control of the whole of Yemen, inevitably looked like a gesture of support for them and for Nasser’s military intervention in the Arabian peninsula. As in the case of Suez in 1956, the advantages anticipated from such a policy remain utterly mysterious. Fortunately for U.S. interests, Nasser was finally unsuccessful in Yemen. But during the five years of Egyptian dominance, Yemen served as a base from which the British position in Aden and its hinterland was continually subverted and attacked. And this may have encouraged a Labor administration in Britain to give full rein to its traditional inclinations, and to abandon Aden as India and Palestine had been, abruptly and catastrophically, abandoned. The consequences of this action for Western interests were not long in manifesting themselves.

The British evacuation of Aden was followed shortly afterward by that of the Persian Gulf, and by 1971 there were hardly any Western bases or points d’appui in the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, or the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, Aden was now a Soviet satellite from which the Soviet Union could extend its power and influence over neighboring territories and, as the war in Oman showed, a base from which subversive and “revolutionary” movements could be launched in the Arabian peninsula. The acts of policy which led to such outcomes were manifest blunders, as any prudent calculation would have beforehand indicated. We do not know, however, whether U.S. policy-makers viewed them as dangerous blunders or attempted to persuade British Prime Minister Harold Wilson or Edward Heath (who followed in Mr. Wilson’s footsteps) of the impolicy of their actions. What is known is that after the departure of the British, Iran and Saudi Arabia came to be looked upon by the U.S. as the pillars of Western defense in the region. Enormous amounts of sophisticated arms and equipment were supplied to them, and in the case of Saudi Arabia, they continue to be supplied.

The consequences of such a policy do not seem to have been seriously considered. Iran and Saudi Arabia could by no stretch of the imagination be thought capable of effectively using these arms or acting as the proxy of the U.S. and its allies in facing the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the fact that these arms were supplied and go on being supplied in order to pay for oil compounds the miscalculations and increases the dangers. Arms supplied in order to cover a deficit in the balance of payments are not the same as arms supplied in support of a policy or a strategy. Arms supplied to pay for oil become a commodity like any other—the more sold, the better; and the use made of them cannot be controlled in the same way as when arms are supplied in pursuance of a political objective. Nor is there a prospect of the effective demand for arms being exhausted, since its purchasers are free to increase at will the price they charge for oil, and thus to increase the burden of the tribute which they exact from consumers.

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This state of affairs—i.e., the steady erosion of the U.S. and Western positions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf; the ability of the oil producers to exact from their customers whatever price they please; and the accumulation of powerful weapons in the hands of unstable and unreliable governments over whose actions little or no control is possible—is of the essence of the Middle Eastern problem as it confronts the U.S. These conditions form the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict—a conflict which, from the vantage point of the outside powers involved, is decidedly less significant than its context. In his recently published Decade of Decisions: American Policy Toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1967-1976,3 William B. Quandt recognizes the importance of these issues for his subject, but the recognition remains formal and perfunctory. The reader gets little sense of the course of policy-making, of the way in which the larger strategic considerations mesh with the daily concerns arising out of sudden emergencies, or from the ebb and flow of bargaining and negotiation. Quandt’s account is thus somewhat arid and sketchy. The reason is not far to seek: the vigor and liveliness of a diplomatic and political narrative lie in its detail—the debate over alternatives, the unexpected somersaults in policy, the hedging and the trimming, the cut-and-thrust of negotiation, the influence of personality, and the compulsion of circumstances. It is not Quandt’s fault if the evidence on which a detailed narrative can be based is not yet available. But because of this lack, we come to feel that even though all that Quandt says about the “decade of decisions” may be true, he is not in a position to show us that it is true and, more important, in what manner exactly what he states to have taken place did take place.

For instance, the book includes a chapter on the crisis of September 1970 in Jordan, when Jordanian forces clashed with and defeated the PLO, and when in an attempt to avert this defeat the Syrians moved troops across the Syrian-Jordanian border and actually occupied the town of Irbid. Hussein appealed for help and the U.S., fearing the consequences of his overthrow, decided on a show of force, and was even prepared to have Israel intervene against the Syrian troops in Jordan with air strikes and, if need be, with ground troops as well. The Syrians then retreated behind their border and the crisis came to an end.

So far so good. But Quandt has criticisms to make of U.S. policy. We are told that the Americans misinterpreted the Syrian invasion, overemphasizing the Soviet role and minimizing the degree to which it grew out of internal Syrian politics. We are also told that Nixon and Kissinger were caught “in a perceptual trap of their own making” which led them to ignore “regional trends” and to misjudge “the very forces that would lead within three years to a much more dangerous outbreak of war in October 1973.” These are self-assured statements about matters concerning which we know very little indeed. For in the absence of evidence—which Quandt does not supply—who can say with any certainty what exactly the motives and actions were of such secretive autocracies as the Syrian Baathist regime and the Soviet Union?

Furthermore, even granting that the invasion of Jordanian territory “grew out of internal Syrian politics,” does this make the threat to the Jordanian regime any less serious, or the Soviets deriving advantage from its collapse any less of a possibility? And before deciding that Nixon and Kissinger were the unwitting and maladroit victims of a self-devised “perceptual trap,” ought we not to know what evidence they had at their disposal, how they interpreted it, and what their calculations were? What may not be gainsaid is that the U.S. succeeded in 1970 in checkmating the Syrians. But, says Quandt, this success laid the foundations of failure in October 1973. A conclusion of this kind is either historical or it is nothing. A historical conclusion, however, has to be the outcome of a complex chain of evidence and inference which would establish how, from September 1970 to October 1973, the events which happened and the decisions which were taken “culminated” in the Yom Kippur War. The book provides neither evidence nor inference. It may be, of course, that Quandt’s judgment is correct, but for the reader its correctness is accidental—no more than an informed or perhaps merely plausible guess or a speculative hunch. One could also imagine speculations equally plausible leading to quite different conclusions: as, for instance, that a different policy toward the Syrian-Jordanian conflict in 1970 would still not have prevented a general Arab-Israeli war and might even have hastened it; or that the October 1973 war might not have taken place but for a failure of judgment in Israel and the U.S. about Egyptian-Syrian intentions in the days immediately preceding its outbreak.

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Quandt is equally critical of U.S. policy in the aftermath of the October war. Kissinger’s step-by-step diplomacy “rates high as a tactic but fails to convey any sense of long-term purpose”; he “knew what he wanted to avoid better than he knew what positive goals he might be able to achieve”; he had “a blind spot toward the Palestinian issue,” and “geared much of his diplomacy to trying to circumvent this crucial issue, to putting off the moment of truth, to weakening the appeal of the Palestinian movement, all the while hoping that some alternative would appear.” Here, too, in the absence of detailed evidence about Kissinger’s calculations and actions and their day-to-day political and diplomatic context, we are quite at a loss to judge the truth of these seemingly historical assertions. Taken not as historical judgments but as prescriptions for future policy, these assertions are open to all kinds of objections. It is by no means obvious that “the Palestinian dimension” is the “heart” of the Arab-Israeli conflict: it could, on the contrary, be argued that it is the least important part of it. Again, it is by no means obvious that a “step-by-step diplomacy” is either inferior to the pursuit of a grand and comprehensive scheme, or indeed that it precludes such a scheme. It is also not easy to see that the search for “positive goals” is manifestly superior to the avoidance of undesirable outcomes: sufficient unto the day, a statesman might with justice say, is the evil thereof.

The maxims of policy which Quandt recommends are thus on a perfect equality with their opposites. They are as likely to be untrue and unhelpful as to be true and helpful. Their purpose in his book, however, is clear. It is to recommend and support a particular policy for dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict, the policy associated with the so-called Brookings Report which Quandt helped to draw up. There is no need here to rehearse once more the faults of appreciation and judgment which mar this document.4 Suffice it to say that if there has been movement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has come from a direction not looked for in the Brookings Report, with its hankering after a “comprehensive” settlement, and not expected by the administration which began by adopting its recipes. In the closing pages of his work, Quandt has pointed up and made more specific the Brookings recommendations. He looks, for instance, to a coalition of Arab regimes including Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, possibly together with Jordan, the Palestinians, and—for good measure—“perhaps even Algeria” to make peace with Israel. Long experience has shown such a coalition for such a purpose to be unobtainable. To have any hope of success, statesmanship must move with and not against the grain. A suggestion of this kind, in seeking the unattainable, in moving against the grain of Middle Eastern conditions, shows itself to inhabit the same arid region of abstraction and fancy into which U.S. foreign policy has been all too prone, at times, to seek refuge.


Footnotes

1 University of Pennsylvania Press, 343 pp., $27.50.

2 Harvard University Press, 613 pp., $18.50.

3 University of California Press, 313 pp., $14.95.

4 They are examined in my article “How to (and How Not to) Seek Peace in the Middle East,” Encounter, May 1978.

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