In this excellent book, Salim Yaqub, in a manner that is both highly informative and very engaging, discusses US policy towards the Arab world and the Arab responses between roughly late 1956 and late 1958, covering the rise and fall of the "Eisenhower Doctrine." Yaqub shows how the US squandered the reserve of goodwill which it had gained from steadfast opposition to the UK/French/Israeli attack on Egypt during the Suez crisis, by trying to enlist the Arabs in the struggle against the Communist menace in the Middle East. US foreign policy in the hands of ideologues such as John Foster Dulles challenged Nasser's regional ascendancy, yet Washington was too often unable to distinguish between Arab nationalism and Communist subversion. Eisenhower overrated his own ability to "build up" conservative Arab allies like King Saud of Saudi Arabia, and consistently underestimated Nasser's popularity in the Middle East. The policy unraveled, when, faced with increasing regional instability, which climaxed with the Iraqi revolution of July 1958 and the US intervention in Lebanon, Washington at last saw the virtues of engaging with Nasser on his own terms.
Yaqub did a great job "connecting the dots." Readers are treated to a "big picture" - the only picture that makes sense. The book recounts how what happened in Egypt or Syria had immediate ramifications for Jordan, Iraq or Lebanon, and vice versa; how clumsy policy mistakes in one part of the Middle Eastern theatre translated into broad and often unpredictable implications for the entire region. This multi-level, multi-faceted account is helped by Yaqub's reliance on a wealth of archival sources, including the Egyptian records. On the other hand, the Soviet angle is largely missing from the picture; the reasons for - and limits of - Nasser's frustration with Moscow are only superficially addressed, as are Khrushchev's ambitions in the Middle East. This makes is difficult to judge why Nasser adopted a somewhat more conciliatory attitude towards the United States, an attitude that itself played into the re-appraisal of US foreign policy in the final years of the Eisenhower Administration. I also kept wondering, as I read the book, what role the Israelis played in the evolution of US policy: this angle is also left largely unexplored.
In the introduction and the conclusion, Yaqub tackles the deeper reasons for US-Arab antagonism. He sees no ground for the "conflict of civilizations" thesis; for him, the Americans and the Arabs share the same set of values, it is their interests that do not coincide. The clash of interests - not a clash of values - underpinned US disagreements with Nasser and other regional players in the 1950s. This analysis, however, raises the question of where broader imperatives of ideology, for the Americans or for the Arabs, may have conditioned perceptions of interest, and if they did, what is the relationship between value systems and ideologies. Exploring this relationship will help us understand why US-Arab antagonism has come so far as to sustain the prevailing perception that we are faced, in fact, with a clash of civilizations.