Cyr: The violent middle east and US foreign policy
The intense, ongoing violence between Hamas and the armed forces of Israel in the Gaza Strip finally reached an uneasy ceasefire. Hamas is a militant Palestinian group that has grown steadily stronger over the years.
The security of Israel along with regional stability are sustained United States foreign policy priorities. The interests of our two nations have not always coincided, yet the partnership endures.
Strategic context is especially important in this part of the world. In 1973, military and diplomatic efforts of the Nixon administration were crucial to Israel’s successful defense against a combined attack by Arab states. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger led efforts to ease tensions in the region.
This was followed by major peace agreements. President Jimmy Carter’s determination and discipline achieved the historic 1978 Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel.
In March 1991, following expulsion of Iraq’s army from Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush addressed Congress. His speech emphasized the goal of achieving lasting stable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Secretary of State James Baker demonstrated extraordinary energy and dedication in sustained diplomacy that followed. The Madrid conference at the end of October 1991 led to the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians, and a Palestinian state, confirmed at the start of the Clinton administration. This in turn facilitated the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994.
Bush and Baker deserve enormous credit for dedication, plus exceptional intelligence and skill in defeating one nation’s military aggression. They did not destroy the Iraq government, did confirm America’s regional leadership, and established a partially independent Palestine authority.
The Trump administration achieved further success. In 2020, the U.S. brokered diplomatic recognition of Israel by the United Arab Emirates. White House adviser Jared Kushner served successfully as intermediary.
The 1956 Suez Crisis remains particularly important and instructive. President Dwight Eisenhower used economic leverage and astute diplomacy to end a secretly planned old-style colonial military invasion by Britain, France and Israel to recapture the Suez Canal, which had been nationalized by Egypt’s new military regime, and seize the Sinai Peninsula.
As usual, Ike’s instincts were on target, and our alliance relationships survived. Harold Macmillan replaced Anthony Eden as Britain’s Prime Minister.
Macmillan acknowledged that the U.S. had succeeded Britain as the principal source of diplomatic and strategic leadership in the Mediterranean. The Soviet Union was able to exploit the situation to strengthen ties with Arab states, especially Syria.
Two years later, Eisenhower intervened directly in Lebanon with a sizable military force. Given the volatile nature of the region generally, and armed conflict creating destruction in Lebanon, many observers regarded the intervention with alarm.
American troops suffered only one soldier killed by hostile fire. Our forces were concentrated in Beirut’s city center, the port and the airport. The crisis did not escalate, and Eisenhower withdrew our forces.
Our forces went into Lebanon in 1958 to occupy specific potentially vulnerable areas, on a mission strictly limited in time as well as space
Today, Iran, Russia and Turkey steadily expand influence in the region. The first is a militant adversary. The second was our principal enemy during the Cold War. The last is a NATO ally but currently antagonisic.
George H.W. Bush and James Baker reinvigorated our Mideast leadership, creating a foundation for stability. That legacy continues, awaiting U.S. leaders equal to the demanding challenges.
Learn More: G.H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, “A World Transformed”
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Macmillan). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.