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Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East.

Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East. By Salim Yaqub. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 392 pp.

In his January 1957 message to Congress proposing what became known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded the legislators, "Russia's rulers have long sought to dominate the Middle East." This statement, reflecting the containment doctrine of the times, was the foundation for protecting the Middle East from Soviet encroachment. Both the House and the Senate passed the legislation, albeit with significant hesitation, authorizing the president to provide financial and military assistance to Middle Eastern nations when requested to combat communist aggression. Salim Yaqub's book, Containing Arab Nationalism, chronicles the formulation and implementation of the Eisenhower Doctrine with impressive detail and analysis. The use of primary sources adds a depth that makes this work an important resource for those trying to understand U.S.-Arab relations.

The distinctive qualities of Yaqub's work lie not only in its comprehensiveness, but also in its focus on the political struggle between the United States and the Nasserist movement. Thus, the underlying purpose of the strategy was the containment of Arab nationalism. Although the Soviets never succeeded in controlling the Middle East, making the outward objective of the policy a success, Yaqub explains that the strategy guiding the policy--"discrediting Arab figures deemed 'soft on communism' by promoting other Arab figures who were conspicuously anticommunist--failed miserably" (p. 5). This failure was caused by the administration's overestimation of its own strength and its underestimation of the strength of Nasserism, and the inability or unwillingness of conservative Arab leaders to proclaim support for the United States or against Nasserism. This failure did not harm the United States, however, because the strategy was flawed from its inception, as Nasserism itself proved to be a barrier to Soviet encroachment.

In presenting the history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, 1941-1956, Containing Arab Nationalism provides a valuable foundation for understanding the Eisenhower Doctrine, and more generally, the dynamics of U.S.-Middle East relations. Yaqub does an excellent job of explaining the issues of Zionism and Western imperialism that emboldened the Nasserist movement. The main concern of the United States was the neutralist element of Nasserist ideology--nonalignment in the Cold War, allowing Arabs the opportunity to gain benefits from both camps in the bipolar struggle. The historical account of the Suez Crisis and the events leading up to it provide valuable insight into inter-Arab and U.S.-Arab relations, as well as creating an understanding of why the United States believed it needed to take the lead of Western powers in the Middle East: if the United States did not fill the vacuum left by Britain and France, the Soviets would.

The focus of the study is 1957 and 1958, covering the formulation of the policy, a detailed account of the process through which the policy was determined, and the difficulties in selling the policy to both legislators in the United States and regimes in the Middle East. Yaqub also addresses the crises that revealed the shortcomings of the policy: the failure to topple the regime in Syria, the uniting of Syria and Egypt in the United Arab Republic, civil war in Lebanon requiring the intervention of U.S. Marines, concerns about the stability of the monarchy in Jordan, and a brutal coup in Iraq that "effectively extinguished the Hashemite dynasty in Iraq" (p. 221). The criticism within the administration that had begun in early 1958 concerning the validity of the anti-Nasserist assumptions of the Eisenhower Doctrine returned in earnest following these crises. Thus, by late 1958, the policy of isolating Nasser was abandoned.

Containing Arab Nationalism provides insight not only concerning the historical period on which it focuses, but also on issues and processes that are of interest today. Yaqub adeptly deals with the inner workings of the U.S. legislative process, the difficulties of formulating foreign policy that satisfies one's allies and fails to provoke one's foes, and the intricacies of U.S.-Arab, U.S.-Israeli, Arab-Arab, and Arab-Israeli relations. In addition, of particular interest, he explains why the United States supports non-democratic governments in the region.

This is a copiously researched, yet eminently readable work. It is of great interest for scholars and suitable for graduate classes in foreign policy and the Middle East. With its discussion of coups, wars, military interventions, and presidential succession questions, it is also suitable for a general audience committed to an understanding of the Middle East. Although historical in nature, Containing Arab Nationalism makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Middle East today.

Elizabeth G. Matthews

Rochester Institute of Technology
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Author:Matthews, Elizabeth G.
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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