Review of Ike’s Gamble by Michael Doran

Ike's Gamble: America's Rise to Dominance in the Middle EastIke’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East by Michael Doran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good book, with a strong point of view that some think still has relevance in todays Middle East. Doran gives us a view not only of the Suez crisis, but of the post WWII erosion of the British position as the dominant Middle Eastern power, and the corresponding rise of Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser as both an Egyptian strongman, and the leader of a Pan Arab nationalist, anti-coloniast movement about to sweep the Middle East.

I enjoy history, but the Suez crisis of 1956 has been an area that I have not had much exposure to. This book is a great start for someone with no real knowledge of how this crisis came to be, and how it ended. The broad stroke here is that President Eisenhower, along with Secretary of State Dulles, faced with the rise of Nasser, chose to lend support to him, with Ike having an anti-coloniast bent, as well as a desire to freeze the Soviet Union out of any role in the Middle East. Doran gives great “credit” to Nasser, who he shows badly outmaneuvering Ike and Dulles. Nasser, by this account, utilized brilliant statecraft to get Ike’s support to remove the British military from Suez, and that same statecraft to win a huge victory over the British, French and Israeli’s in the 1956 Suez War. This brilliant “success” by Nasser is aided and abetted, in Doran’s telling, by the gullibility of the Americans, who were in essence duped by Nasser, who cleverly hid his true intentions from the Americans, including the “Arabists” populating the State Department and the CIA.

How did Nasser achieve this brilliant “statecraft,” and what were his real goals and objectives? Doran shows us that Nasser’s true goals were achieving political pre-eminence in the Arab world, with his main objective eliminating Arab rivals, and making himself and Egypt the center of the Arab world. Ike, and Dulles, believing that Nasser desired accommodation with the west, floated an “honest broker” approach with Israel, hoping that by pressuring Israel for territorial concessions Nasser would be mollified, and willing to make peace with the Israelis. Doran strongly believes that Nasser was simply using the Arab-Israeli conflict to stoke the Arab street, and whipsaw his Arab rivals. The evidence, as I see it, tends to support Doran’s theory. Nasser also utilized the great power rivalry to further confuse, and deceive the Americans. Doran shows us what he believes Nasser’s real goals were, with a focus on his violent opposition to the American sponsored “Northern Tier” and his eventual success in toppling the Iraqi government. Nasser was successful at not only deceiving the Americans but at doing tremendous damage to the American position in the Middle East over the longer term.

Is there some connection to American policy today? No question that history brings important lessons and we must always learn from them. What those lessons are can be discussed forever, but this book brings an interesting perspective. For those interested in the diplomatic world, and how it works, and how Nasser worked the diplomatic system to achieve his geopolitical goals this book should be on your list. An interesting perspective on Ike, who comes off as duped by Nasser, but as the ultimate pragmatist, shifting gears when he finally caught on. The question of whether Ike ever acknowledged error in 1956 is discussed, with claims from several, including Richard Nixon, that Ike had privately admitted mistake in forcing the British, French, and Israelis to stop the taking of Suez. But Ike never took that step publicly, so we are only left with speculation on that subject.

Doran has produced a fine book, with a certain perspective. Some of the reviews I looked at have been critical of his approach, but even if you agree with some of those criticisms it is worth a read.

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