While some might consider Ike's Gamble by Doran of the Hudson Institute mainly of antiquarian interest, this examination of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Middle East policy turns out to be both fascinating in itself and to have continuing relevance for U.S. foreign policy.
Eisenhower became president about the same time that Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in Egypt. As the leader of pan-Arab nationalism, Nasser dominated the Middle East during the U.S. president's entire eight years in office. In light of their intense competition with the Soviet Union, U.S. leaders had a choice of two basic approaches to Nasser: build him up to win him over or treat him as an opponent to reduce his influence.
Focused primarily on finding allies against Moscow, Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, decided to woo Nasser; that is the gamble of the title. Doran follows this implausible effort in painful but nearly novelistic detail, revealing the full extent of its faulty premises, tactical blunders, and strategic errors. In brief, U.S. support turned Nasser into Egypt's dictator, a wildly popular pan-Arab nationalist hero, an invaluable Soviet ally, and a global anti-American chieftain. Finally, in 1958, after the particularly bruising Suez war experience, the realist core in Eisenhower and Dulles wised up.
Ike's Gamble is a page-turner in part because it is fluently written but mostly because its tale so precisely foreshadows the equally misguided Middle East policy of Barack Obama and John Kerry. Iran succeeded Egypt as the region's cynosure: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action serves as the functional equivalent of the Suez War—an enormous, gratuitous victory handed by a clueless U.S. president to a known enemy in the forlorn attempt to woo him. In Yogi Berra's reputed phrase, it is "déjà vu all over again." The 1950s consequences were bad enough—a rampant Nasser stirring trouble in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, against Israel, and beyond, until his early death in 1970. But the current error could have far worse implications by allowing an apocalyptically-minded regime to acquire nuclear weapons.
Thanks to Doran, we learn how appeasement constantly tempts U.S. policymakers, even the hardest-headed of them. Forewarned is forearmed.