April 13, 2009

Make Zionism History!

Aida refugee camp (photo by Musa Al Shaer

Aida refugee camp (photo by Musa Al Shaer)

Empire and agency: “A World of Trouble: America in the Middle East”: The Electronic Intifada

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

United States Middle East policy has been defined since World War II by the tension between two competing concerns: the strategic interests which require good relations with Arab-Muslim states, and domestic political imperatives which demand unquestioning allegiance to Israel. That the US interest in the region’s energy resources has remained consistent, as well as its support for Israel, leads some to conclude that somehow the two are complementary. They aren’t. US President Harry S. Truman recognized the state of Israel the day of its founding over the strenuous objections of his State Department in order to court the Jewish vote and, more significantly, Jewish money for his re-election campaign. Every president since — with the exception of Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, who saw no cause to feign balance — has sought to address this tension with attempts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. All these efforts have so far failed. A study of US policy in the region over the decades, then, is inevitably a study of the causes of these failures. While nowhere in his invaluable diplomatic history of eight presidencies, A World of Trouble: America in the Middle East, does Patrick E. Tyler use the phrase “the Israel lobby,” it nevertheless looms largest among the reasons why all these efforts have foundered. With the US Congress long since claimed by the lobby, the executive branch is where most of these battles have played out.
The coherence and continuity imputed to US policy in the region by analysts owes more to broad-brush theorizing than to a careful appraisal of the contingent realities that have shaped it. The structural determinism of these accounts overlooks the ad hoc nature of the policies and brushes over the discernible personal stamps of key individuals. Tyler’s indispensable corrective begins with Dwight D. Eisenhower, among whose priorities the Middle East never ranked high until the Suez crisis in 1956. Like Truman he resented Zionist influence on the US government, but whereas the former had opted for a politically expedient accommodation, Eisenhower refused to compromise. Both Eisenhower and his CIA Director Allan Dulles liked Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who they saw as an anti-communist modernizer. They aided his consolidation of power. The Israeli government resented this and even resorted to terrorism at one point to wean away the US.

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