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Perspectives on Power: John F. Kennedy and U.S.-Middle East Relations | Dec. 2002 |

The Kennedy Administration is an excellent case study for the nature of power relationships during the Cold War because it came during a period in which policy shifted because of the actions of local players. This work is based on an analysis of diplomatic conversations between American ambassadors and officers in ten Middle East countries and their superiors in Washington. These conversations reveal conflicting aims of the United States and Middle East leaders, and the degree to which Kennedy and his advisors reshaped policy to meet new demands or conditions.

Ben-Gurion persuaded Kennedy to sell Israel missiles, beginning a gradual process of the United States becoming an arsenal for Israel. This support damaged a fragile relationship with neutralist, Arab states. The Shah of Iran managed to persuade the United States that he was a reformer, thus assuring a steady flow of dollars. Similarly, Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia created paper reforms in order to persuade Kennedy to provide military aid. King Hussein of Jordan promised reforms and threatened to seek Soviet help in order obtain increasing amounts of American aid. Eventually, American support of traditional Arab regimes vis-a-vis more progressive ones further branded the United States as an enemy of pan-Arab nationalism.

However, in order to understand the implications ofthis study, one must identify Arab nationalism as well as Kennedy's aims for the Middle East. Kennedy and his advisors understood that there were two kinds of Arab nationalism at work in the region during the 1960s: a vague movement toward pan-Arab unity and nationalist goals of the separate states. In fact, conflicting aims of these two kinds of nationalism often created friction between Arab states, what Malcolm Kerr long ago labeled an "Arab Cold War."

While Kennedy was wary of the first kind of nationalism, he supported the second. He viewed Arab unity as a threat only if it were not oriented to the West. Safer, perhaps, was a collection of independent Arab states with which he could negotiate on an individual basis.

Regardless of whether or not there was Arab unity, Kennedy intended to work with whomever was necessary in the region to further his aim: to minimize Soviet influence in the region and safeguard Western access to oil. Even though Kennedy would have liked to broker an Arab-Israeli peace or at least make significant progress toward that goal, he more realistically expected to maintain a balanced approach to both Arab states and Israel while minimizing the opportunities for Soviet infiltration.

U.S. and Israel: The Development of the Special Relationship

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Thu Apr 20th, 2023 at 09:06:41 PM EST
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