Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review Ropes Of Sand, America’s Failure in the Middle East

Review Eveland, Wilbur Crane, Ropes Of Sand, America’s Failure in the Middle East, London New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1980
Wilbur Crane Eveland originally joined U.S. army intelligence after World War II. He then got recruited into the CIA. He started off being stationed to Baghdad in 1949 during the monarchy period as the military attaché at the embassy. During that time, the U.S.’s main role was supporting the British in Iraq. The Iraqis had their own plans and went to the U.S. asking for military equipment to break the hold England had over Iraq. The Americans said no not wanting to offend their ally. When Eveland first arrived the U.S. Ambassador was an Anglophile and all too happy to follow this policy. The second one however warned that the British could not hold their position in Iraq, and all their projects were for London’s benefit. His advice was ignored.

Baghdad was also facing a bit of instability in 1950 when several bombs went off at Jewish sites in the city along with a U.S. run library. Eveland believed that Israel was behind the attacks in an attempt to drive the country’s Jews to immigrate. Thousands began leaving. Israel’s role is still disputed and many of Iraq’s Jews had already decided to leave before the attacks started.

In terms of foreign policy, the Eisenhower administration backed Iraq and England’s regional aspirations. The U.S. had pushed for a civilian government to be established in Syria after a coup, and succeeded in doing so. Neither Baghdad nor London liked the new regime however, and immediately began plotting against it. That was driven by Regent Abd Ilah’s desire to impose a Hashemite king on the throne in Damascus something King Faisal I once attempted after World War I. Prime Minister Nouri al-Said also had a vision of a greater Iraq that included Syria and Jordan. England manipulated the situation by using its agents in the press to spread stories that the Russians were sending in weapons and taking over Damascus. Eveland travelled through Syria several times and reported that news was false, but it made little impact in Washington. The U.S. switched policy in Syria to accommodate these desires and backed several coup attempts in Syria, none of which worked. The other common concern was Gamal Abdel Nasser who had followers in Iraq and throughout the region. The U.S. got Iraq, England, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia to all back various plots against the Egyptian leader, which also failed to materialize.

Eveland would then move onto the CIA working on Lebanon and Syria, and eventually becoming something of a special envoy to both Dulles brothers who were the CIA Director and Secretary of State. They seemed to be able to plot their own foreign policy without much input from the president. In turn, the CIA had several operatives working in the Middle East, who after their success in overthrowing the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1950 thought they could do anything in the region. That led to all kinds of problems such as when the CIA funded the re-election of Lebanon’s President Camille Chamoun, but was too successful winning such a large majority it angered the other factions in the country. That led to a rebellion and the U.S. ended up sending troops in 1958.

The larger mistaken policy Washington followed was attempting to impose the Cold War on the Middle East. The Soviets had a very small role in the area, but the U.S.’s missteps allowed them entry. More importantly Israel and internal affairs were the main concerns of the Arab countries, and that was almost completely ignored. Instead, the U.S. offered weapons to all the local governments to provide a bulwark against the USSR to the north, but then couldn’t follow through because of objections from Israel and its backers in the U.S. congress. The Americans would have been much more successful if they backed political and economic initiatives in the Arab world, but there was little interest in that because the Red Menace dominated thinking. Eventually several governments like Egypt and Syria would turn to the Russians for armaments to oppose Israel. How poorly the U.S. played its hands during this period is the major theme of the book, and provides a very interesting read. 

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