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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.

The Monuments by Worcester City Hall

hoar
The George Hoar monument

By Gordon Davis

Yesterday morning a friend called me to get historical information about the Worcester Common, behind our City Hall.  She has lived in Worcester for most of her life. She has seen the Common go through several iterations.

She is too young to remember the Old South (Congregational) that doubled as a religious meeting house and the Town Hall.  The cemetery in the Common is of parishioners. The Church still exists on Salisbury Street.

She is not too young to remember the so called reflecting pool that only seemed to collect trash and restrict the foot traffic flow through the park area. The architect seemed not to have read Jane Jacobs!

The jury is still out on the Ice Oval which doubles as a skating rink in the winter and a sitting/eating area in the summer. I have never used the skating rink, but I like the tables and sun umbrellas in the summer.

Monuments sprinkle the Worcester Common and nearby area.  Some of them are relatively new.

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There is a monument concerning the genocide of Armenian people by the Turks during World War I.  This monument is located on the right hand side of the front of City Hall as you face City Hall.

There is also an Irish Cross which symbolizes the 1916 Easter Rebellion by the Irish Republican Army against British rule.

Korean
Korean War memorial

The number of war memorials is surprising. The most surprising is that of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist founder of Worcester Polytechnical Institute, George Hoar (above). His image sits majestically wondering why the City has not changed much of its war mentality or its racist policies. Mr. Hoar opposed the Spanish American War.

The City has honored Colonel Biglow of Worcester who fought against he British in the War of American Independence.

The Civil War memorial has the names of the 398 soldiers from Worcester who died fighting the racist Confederacy and its system of chattel slavery.
 
There is a relatively new monument to the brave trooper who gave their lives in the Iraq Wars I and II. I suppose we will have to modify the monument to include Iraq War III.

On the side of City Hall there is a statue of an American GI. This generation fought the Nazis and the Axis of Fascism, Germany, Italy, and Japan government.  The Honor Roll of Black Veterans should be erected next to it, instead of on the isolated traffic island in Lincoln Square.
 

Across the street from the Worcester Commons is the first Vietnam War memorial. It predates the extravagance in Green Hill Park.  I thought for a while no knew that it existed, but every once and while I see flowers there.

Vietnam(1)

A few blocks away is the Korean War memorial (above). Although the statue is moving, it is pretext. Nonetheless, the soldiers who died and fought there performed their duty as they understood it. 

Unfortunately, it has the feel of the Western savior. Many more Koreans died in that Cnflict than Westerners.

The Worcester Common’s character changed when the Worcester Regional Transportation moved it busses to the Hub.

What will our Common be like with the demolition of Notre Dame and finished construction of City Square?

biglow(1)

civil war

America: land of the warmongers

By Michael True

In public addresses, President Obama assures us that the U.S. military command is greater than any other in the world. One wonders if he is aware that the U.S. has not won a war since 1945, as historian Andrew Bacivich suggests.

Since the Vietnam War, U.S. policy makers and military commands responsible for U.S. interventions have not quite lived up to the president’s billing.

The cost has been enormous, in dead and injured Americans and wasted resources. The results, including the ignominious defeat in Vietnam, have left the U.S. and the world in worse shape than before.

Following the War in Iraq, arguably the worst military disaster in American history, U.S. interventions continued up to and including the one in Afghanistan. Wounded veterans from each conflict returned home, many ending up homeless or suicidal.

In spite of these disasters, as James Atlas points out in a recent issue of The Atlantic, the American public still regards the U.S. armed forces more favorably than other essential government services such as Medicare and Social Security. A central question posed by Atlas is one that has not been fully addressed either during or since the Vietnam War: “Who is held responsible for these interventions – some of them further destabilizing regions where the U.S. was involved?”

And yet, Congress and the Pentagon lobby keep insisting on more and more military expenditures, even though the U.S. military budget is larger than either China’s or Russia’s, and almost equals military expenditures of all nations in the world combined.

As a line in a Denise Levertov poem says, “The same war continues.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. infrastructure deteriorates, and Congress cuts Food Stamps allotments, while a fourth of our nation’s children under five years old live below the poverty line.

Many factors have contributed to this sad state of affairs, in domestic as well as foreign policy, in a culture of violence since Vietnam.

And do we ever learn from our mistakes?

Although it has been 50 years since the Vietnam War began in the early 1960s and 40 years since it ended, full knowledge of its consequences escapes us, in spite of numerous novels and poems, debates and histories, memoirs and films and debates and films and debates about the films.

Initially, several of the so-called “best and brightest who lied and plunged us into that disaster,” including the late U.S. Secretary of State Robert McNamara, acknowledged that it should never have happened. As with other accounts, his admission was helpful. Nonetheless, a fuller accounting and deeper understanding of the war awaits us, if we are to understand how it resulted in the massacre of more than 2 million Vietnamese, 58,000 Americans, and numerous allies on either side.

Among recent accounts that I am familiar with, Nick Turse’s Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, 2013, occupies a special place, particularly on the basis of new information focusing on the war’s impact on the native population and the suffering they endured.

For the Vietnamese, the war was “an endless gauntlet of potential calamities,” according to Turse, with innocents ”killed for the sake of a bounty or shot in a garbage dump, forced into prostitution or gang-raped…run down for sport on a roadway or locked away in jail to be tortured without the benefit of trial.” These crimes, the various essence of war, Terse adds, “went on all the time all over South Vietnam for years.”

Following its failed war in the jungles of Vietnam, the U.S. briefly soft-pedaled its imperial pretensions. After 9/11, however, the Bush administration seemed to feel that the U.S. had to bomb somebody.

Pressured by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and other militarists in the Bush cabinet and cheered on by the shameless media, the U.S. invaded Iraq, even though there were no nuclear weapons and no Iraqis were 9/11 terrorists. That intervention, costing taxpayers more than $3 trillion, turned out to be perhaps the worst foreign policy disaster in American history.

Forty years from now, perhaps, we may get a more complete acccount of a war that was fundamentally wrong and immoral, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, thousands of Americans, and further destabilizing the Middle East.

After that, President Obama repeated policies initiated by President Bush, including torture and strikes by MQ-l Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones,  terrorizing innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. One report stated that the ratio of deaths from the strikes over a three-year period was 50 civilians for every militant – a hit rate of 2 percent.”

U.S. military expenditures in Afghanistan exceed $100 billion, in the fifth poorest and second most corrupt nation in the world. Sixty-eight percent of people there live on less than $1 a day, and only 23% of the population has access to sanitary drinking water.

Although Americans are aware of major wars that the U.S. has been involved in, we often fail to realize that violence and militarism characterize our foreign policy throughout history.

General knowledge about various incidents are missing in standard history of the U.S. since about 1890. Recent accounts, such as The Untold History of the United States, 2012, occasionally provide further details on policies and events on the basis of new revelations.

Even when one disagrees with documentation and commentary, such as Stone’s and Kuznick’s, they foster lively debate that enhances public discussion in the long run and add detailed information seldom available through conventional histories and popular media. Acknowledging America’s affirmation of freedom and liberty, they also reflect on how those values have been buried “in the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the jungles of Southeast Asia, and the sands of the Middle East.”

In the recent past, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have continued to fail us, particularly on issues of foreign policy. So we learn – after the fact – about their approving our country’s global surveillance, something which alienates our friends abroad and undermines civil liberties at home.

Is there any hope of altering the priorities of the U.S. in our foreign policy?

Probably not, as long as the American public remains ignorant of their consequences and the elected officials who supported them remain in office. As a nation, we appear not to have learned what General Smedley Butler taught 70 years ago: ”War is a racket.”

At the moment, neither political party effectively challenges or addresses these serious issues. Democrats remain divided on many of them, while Republicans oppose almost any foreign policy proposal from the White House, primarily to make President Obama look bad.

The same is true, unfortunately, regarding domestic, as well as foreign policy. During the recession, for example, Republicans opposed the president’s efforts to revive the American economy. Ignoring them, Obama succeeded in improving the situation while lowering the national debt at the same time. Since then, Republicans have pressed for austerity measures similar to those responsible for serious economic consequences in Europe and Japan. It does so in spite of the fact that Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman indicated repeatedly in his New York Times column, that such austerity measures would only weaken our economy.

None of this will change until an aroused public challenges lockstep Republicans and cautious Democrats to redirect policies that perpetuate chaos at home and abroad. Altering the situation requires persistent legislative and nonviolent action by a significant number of Americans. Similarly, improving the state of the union means responding to and affirming the interests not of the wealthy and powerful few, but of the overwhelming majority.

Michael True was an English professor at Worcester’s Assumption College for many years. He’s one of Worcester’s most eloquent peace activists.