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Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East

By Michael Doran, (2016, Simon & Schuster, 292 Pages)

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

This writer has reviewed several biographies of Dwight Eisenhower. Historians rate Eisenhower as one of America’s greater Presidents. Eisenhower balanced the budget (“better dead than in the red”), ended the Korean War, did not overreact to the Soviet Sputnik launch into outer space, and refused repeated requests from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to launch pre-emptive strikes against Red China.

It is against this backdrop of presidential success that one should read “Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East” with a considerable grain of salt. Author Michael Doran is a neocon. He was a Director of the National Security Council during the Presidency of George W. Bush. He was an assistant to Elliott Abrams. Abrams was pardoned by the first President Bush for withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal.

In a February 2003 article in the highly prestigious Foreign Relations Magazine, Doran endorsed the invasion of Iraq which took place one month later, stating: “If an American road to a calmer situation in Palestine does in fact exist, it runs through Baghdad.” “Calm” is not an adjective used often to describe Palestine after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

It does mention in Ike’s Gamble’s biographical section, on the back flap, that Doran “has served as a Middle Eastern adviser in the White House and as a deputy secretary of defense.” It does not mention that this was during the Bush 43rd Presidency. The book is totally silent on Doran’s connection to Bush.

The reviewer starting researching Doran’s background after finishing the book becomes deeply suspicious of what he had read. Doran’s approach reminds one of Dick Cheney’s cherry picking of evidence on Iraq’s nuclear weapons to justify the Iraq invasion. Doran had slim proof to back up some of his assertions, used highly questionable sources, and stated a version of events extremely different from the generally accepted story. The impression one gets is that Doran knew his association with George W. Bush would discredit this book in the minds of many readers.

Neocon hero

The book opens with Winston Churchill meeting Eisenhower after Ike was elected President in November 1952. This is significant: in the neocon world Churchill is an icon. George W. Bush kept a bust of Churchill in the oval office throughout much of his Presidency.

The British Empire was nearing bankruptcy because of World War II. It didn’t have the money to maintain its far-flung empire. Doran gives the impression the world would be a better place if Eisenhower had agreed to fund Britain’s empire. That would have made sense to the dyed in the wool imperialists, bankers and businessmen in London but was opposed by British subjects in Africa or Asia who wanted their independence.

Doran conveys this through “the James Bond” analogy of American bankrolling the British through international institutions while Britain maintains its empire. He cites the first novel in the James Bond franchise, Casino Royale, where Bond loses all his money at a game of baccarat with a Soviet agent. The day is saved by American agent Felix Leiter, who gives Bond a wad of cash and a note reading: “Marshall Aid. Thirty-two million francs. With the Compliments of the USA.” Doran notes, “Resuscitated with American funds, Bond continues to play, and of course,” trounced the Soviet agent. Leiter is the role Doran wishes the U.S. had played throughout the 1956 crisis. He morosely noted: “Eisenhower was no Felix Leiter.”

1956 Suez Crisis

In 1956 Nasser negotiated the British to withdraw their 80,000-man garrison from along the Suez Canal. Nasser’s military was not strong enough to drive them out. After the British withdrew, Nasser nationalized the canal. Enraged, the British and French persuaded the Israelis to enact a farce: Israel would attack the Egyptians in the Sinai and then the British and French, playing the role of unknowing innocents, would seize the canal on the pretext they were separating the warring countries.

In October 1956, the Israelis attacked and quickly overran much of the Sinai.
Eisenhower believed that if the United States were to support Britain and France in their gunboat diplomacy, the U.S. would become identified with western colonialism in developing countries. He also thought that if the U.S sided with Egypt in his crisis, the U.S. would be accepted as an honest broker to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Ike forced the British, French and Israeli forces to withdraw from the territories occupied during a brief war with Egypt. Doran portrays Eisenhower as a naïve President with a simplistic viewpoint of the Middle East. Doran asserts Eisenhower’s poor judgments collapsed American’s position in the Middle East in favor of Nasser. This wasn’t exactly the case. The Israelis seized the Sinai in the 1967 war and Nasser died three years later without achieving his dream of being President of a unified Arab super-state. Anwar Sadat later negotiated the return of the Sinai after the Yom Kippur war.

Sources

There is a controversy over whether Eisenhower came to regret his actions in the 1956 Suez crisis. He had few sources to substantiate this assertion. Incredibly, one of these sources was Richard M. Nixon. Doran preferred to believe Nixon over Stephen Ambrose, an award-winning Presidential biographer.

Ambrose hadn’t resigned the Presidency after being accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, but Doran found him less credible than Tricky Dick. That should tell the reader all they need to know about this book.

InCity Times book review

IKE’S BLUFF

President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World

By Evan Thomas

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was the commander of the allied forces in the European theatre during World War II and the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. In the wake of a succession of disastrous Presidents – Richard M. Nixon and especially George W. Bush – Eisenhower’s statute has soared among historians. Seen from the wreckage of the Bush Presidency, Eisenhower was the last real Republican, a man to whom balancing the budget was more important than cutting taxes, making peace was better than waging “pre-emptive” war, and the country invested in infrastructure to build the national highway system.

When Ike left office in 1961, he was not well thought of either by historians or many of his contemporaries. Made old and gray in the service of his country, Eisenhower seemed almost decrepit when compared to the younger, dynamic John F. Kennedy.

Right man

The Eisenhower who emerges in Evan Thomas’ “Ike’s Bluff” is a far different figure. Eisenhower was well prepared by his long career in the military for the Presidency, and was the right figure at the right time for America.

Thomas’ thesis is that Eisenhower bluffed for eight years by threatening to use nuclear weapons against America’s Cold War enemies, the Soviet Union and Red China. This enabled Eisenhower to reduce the Defense budget, to balance the overall federal budget, and to restore America’s fiscal health.

“In truth, Ike was just as weary of the generals as he was of hawkish diplomats, if not more so,” writes Evans. “He knew how the top brass used worst-case scenarios to frighten their civilian masters into spending more on unnecessary new weapons systems and pet boondoggles.”

“Look, let me tell you something,” Eisenhower said to his press secretary,” I know better than any of you fellows how waste in the Pentagon and about how much fat there is to be cut – because I’ve seen those boys operate for a long time.”

Eisenhower was able to play nuclear poker with the Russians because of the aura around him as the man who ordered the 1944 invasion of France. It gave him credibility lacking in his two successors, Kennedy and Johnson. The Soviet Union believed Eisenhower when the U.S. President talked about using nuclear weapons.

Started in Korea

Ike’s first bluff took place in Korea, where American troops were entangled in a bloody stalemate with Red China. Eisenhower made noise about using tactical nuclear weapons, shipping them to Korea, and having studies done on which North Korean airports could be nuked. The Chinese and North Koreans hurriedly made peace.

Over the next eight years Eisenhower played his cards closely, hinting that he had a royal flush, while leaving the Soviets or Chinese wondering if Ike would play his nuclear ace. When Red China launched artillery barrages of Quemoy and Matsu, the two islands between mainland China and Taiwan, the Communists did not go any further because of fear Eisenhower would use nuclear weapons on an invading force.

Yet Eisenhower was deathly afraid of nuclear war. Thomas recounts in one chilling passage a National Security Council meeting in which Eisenhower asked how many nuclear bombs it would take to make the world 100% radioactive. He was told that it was 10,000. Eisenhower then asked how many nuclear explosions it would take to knock the earth off its axis. Knocking the earth of its axis would have totally destroyed life on this plant, and prevented another civilization from arising.

Dwight Eisenhower was a conservative who balanced America’s budget, kept the peace, and gave the United States a period of prosperity. No wonder historians of both the right and left are looking closely at his Presidency.