John F. Kennedy – From “The Strategy of Peace” Chapter 13. The
Middle East today is a monument
to Western misunderstanding. During the last eight years the West has
ignominiously presided over the liquidation of its power in the whole region,
while the U.S.S.R. has gained important footholds. American policy has wavered
and wobbled as much, if not more, than any other Western country…
But the main problem was and is understanding the driving forces and central needs of the region as a whole and devising an appropriate farsighted American policy….
Our mistakes in the
Middle East, it
seems to me, were primarily mistakes of attitude. We tended to deal with this
area almost exclusively in the context of the East-West struggle – in terms of
our own battle against international Communism. Their own issues of
nationalism, of economic development, and local political hostilities were
dismissed by our policy-makers as being of secondary importance.
This is not to say that we were necessarily wrong in saying that Communism was their greatest enemy – but we were wrong in believing that we could convince them that it was. We were wrong in believing that what was so clear to us could be made equally compelling to other peoples with problems very different from our own – people with a much lower standard of living, a much greater pride in neutrality and a much more cent history of foreign exploitation. The Arabs knew that their lands had never been occupied by Soviet troops – but they had been occupied by Western troops – and they were not ready to submerge either their nationalism or their neutrality in an alliance with the Western nations.
We made other grave errors in the
We overestimated our own strength and underestimated the force of nationalism.
We failed to perceive when we had lost control of events – and failed to act
accordingly once it became clear. We gave our support to regimes instead of to
people – and too often we tied our future to the fortunes of unpopular and
ultimately overthrown governments and rulers.
We believed that those governments which were friendly to us and hostile to Communists were therefore good governments – and we believed that we could make unpopular policies acceptable through our own propaganda programs. Without question some of these governments were good governments – genuinely devoted to the welfare of their people and the development of their economies – but logic and fact are not the same as what people believe. The mutilated body of Iraqi Premier Nuri As-said, to cite one vivid example, hanging from a Bagjhdad lamp post a year ago last July, became the symbol of what happened to our policy in Iraq.
Is it not ironic that today – after considerable expenditure, turmoil, Communist gains and Western defeats – we are striving to achieve for the Middle East the very status of neutrality on which we turned our backs some three years ago?
In short, from here on out, the question is not whether we should accept the neutralist tendencies of the Arabs, but how we can work with them. The question is not whether we should recognize the force of Arab nationalism, but how we can help to channel it along constructive lines.
The mistaken attitudes of the past – our previous misconceptions and psychological barriers – must all be junked – for the sake of the Arabs and for our own sake as well. Where our approach was once trite and traditional, it must now be imaginative, progressive, and practical. Above all, it must recognize things as they are and not just as we would have them to be for our convenience. We must talk in terms that go beyond the vocabulary of Cold War – terms that translate themselves into tangible values and self-interest for the Arabs as well as ourselves.
It is not enough to talk only in terms of guns and money – for guns and money are not the basic need in the
It is not enough to approach their problems on a piecemeal basis. It is not
enough to merely ride with a very shaky status quo. It is not enough to recall
the Baghdad Pact or the Eisenhower Doctrine – it is not enough to rely on the
Voice of America or the Sixth Fleet. The approaches have failed.
But if we can learn from the lessons of the past – if we can refrain from pressing our case so hard that the Arabs feel their neutrality and nationalism are threatened – if we can talk with them in terms of their problems, not ours – then I am convinced that the
can become an area of strength and hope. Let us make clear that we will never
turn our back on our steadfast friends in ,
whose adherence to the democratic way must be admired by all friends of
freedom. But let us also make clear throughout the Israel Middle East
that we want friendship, not satellites – and we are interested in their
prosperity as well as ours. To do this job, to do it right, requires the
combination of imagination and restraint which we have thus far not
demonstrated in the Middle East. But the time to do so
While we, along with the leaders of our nation and the world, are concerned tonight with the daily developments in the
East, I think my comments should be directed toward a longer-range
view of the situation. It would be worth while for all of us now while
negotiations proceed to examine the problems that will still be present once
hostilities have ceased, borders have been redrawn, and alliances rebuilt.
Much in the Middle East, of course, is the same as it was a generation ago; much will remain the same: the special importance of the Middle East to the great religions of the world, Jewish, Moslem and Christian; the economic interests of Britain and France in the area, present today as they were a generation ago; the traditional rivalries between the various Arab blocs, between the Saudis and the Hashimites, beween the Nile and the Euphraties-Tigris valleys, between northern Arabs and Southern Arabs, rich states and poor.
But let us consider the new trends and developments which have altered the character and significance of the
and its problems, and with which we will be reckoning long after the present
crisis has ended. There are, it seems to me, seven such facts.
- First is the highly strategic position occupied by the Middle East in the world’s political, ideological and military battles…the Middle East has consequently assumed an importance in the Cold War out of proportion to its size, strength and previous significance.
second permanent factor in the
Middle Eastof which we must never lose sight is oil. The dependence of the world upon Middle Eastern oil and its transportation through the Suez Canalhas been made abundantly clear. Whatever political and military settlements are made, whatever tensions are lifted and problems solved, we must remember that Europe’s dependence upon these oil supplies will continue – and continue indefinitely, regardless of our developments in atomic energy.
third fact which will remain once the dust of the present battle has
settled and the smoke has cleared away will be the unprecedented success
of Soviet penetration in the
we must never consider the problems of the nations of the
Middle Eastapart from the economic and social conditions which surround them. Life in the Middle East, it has been said, is a perpetual fight against the desert, and always the desert has won in the past – with poverty and illiteracy and disease and underdevelopment dominating an area where only a few enjoy the benefits of great oil and land holdings. Indeed, the increase in outside capital poured into the area to exploit its oil and other resources has only aggravated the problems of unequal distribution of wealth and inadequate development of human resources. These are problems with which the new nations of the Middle Eastmust struggle for the next generation; and no amount of nationalistic oratory can create the scientific and technological revolution necessary to raise the standard of living of their people. Nor is such a revolution easily purchased by oil royalties. It requires the closest associations and assistance of either Western Europe, who is mistrusted, or the Soviet Union, or the . This decision will be a continuing one facing our nation and the nations of the United States Middle Eastfor many years after the close of the present hostilities.
factor is the rise of Arab nationalism, the revolt in the
Middle Eastagainst Western colonialism. In , and Morrocco, Algeria ; in Tunisia , Jordan , Yemen , Iraq and Saudi Arabia , and in Aden and throughout the entire area, the desire to be free from direct or indirect Western influence has become a powerful and sometimes violent force. Policies of repression have only fanned the flames of discontent; and the close ties between this nation, home of the Declaration of Independence, and the great colonial powers have caused Arab spokesmen to warn our State Department that the nations of the Egypt Middle Eastwere beginning to regard as a supporter of colonialism. In recent weeks, particularly with respect to the present crisis, we have proclaimed our independence from our traditional allies on issues affected by the colonialism-nationalism struggle, but it is not yet clear that we have recognized this factor to be the most powerful, dynamic force for good or evil in the America Middle Easttoday.
- A sixth factor, related to but separate from the growing force of Arab nationalism, has been the emergence of Egypt as the leader of the Arab bloc, the champion of Arab unity, and the chief provocator against the West…it’s roots are in the history of Egypt’s bitter relations with the British….and in a series of more recent Western actions in the area which Egypt regarded either as an affront or a threat to its prestige…
the character of the
Middle Eastwill be shaped for generations to come by one more factor which was not present a generation ago – the State of Israel. It is time for all the nations of the world, in the Middle Eastand elsewhere, realized that is here to stay. Surrounded on every side by violent hate and prejudice, living each day in an atmosphere of constant tension and fear, Israel is certain to survive the present crisis and all future crisis; and all negotiations between the Israel and Arab nations should accept that fact. United States
The future of the
East will be based upon the interrelation of these seven factors.
We now realize that there is no problem in the Middle East
in which the security of the
is not involved and to the solution of which we don not have some
responsibility. But we shall fulfill those responsibilities with lasting
benefits for ourselves and the world only if we develop a Middle Eastern policy
of our own; and only if we base that policy upon a long-range point of view –
upon the interlocking and interaction of the above facts and factors. United States