WILL THE MIDDLE EAST GO WEST
THE CHALLENGE OF BOTH IMPERIALISMS
In a great speech to Congress on July 2, 1957, Senator John F. Kennedy said that the most powerful single force in the world today is neither Communism nor Capitalism, nor the H-Bomb, but man’s “eternal desire to be free and independent.” The junior senator from Massachusetts may be over-optimistic, in view of the free world’s desire for peace at almost any price, but he was eminently right when he said:
The great enemy of that tremendous force of freedom is called,
for want of a more precise term, imperialism – and today that
means Soviet imperialism and, whether we like it or not, and
though they are not to be equated, Western imperialism.
Some see only the challenge and menace of Soviet imperialism and would have us do nothing to help the peoples of Asia and Africa struggling to be free or independent, lest we injure the imperial interests of our French and British allies. Others would have us seek peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Empire and imagine that the specter of Communism can be laid by good works, meaning abundant economic aid to “underprivileged” peoples. John Kennedy is one of the few concerned with our failure “to meet the challenge of imperialism on both counts and thus failing in our responsibilities to the free world.” He prefaced his speech, dealing at length with the Algerian problem which we have neglected, or refused to recognize as our problem, by saying:
Thus the single most important test of American foreign policy today
is how we meet the challenge of imperialism, what we do to further
man’s desire to be free. On this test more than any other, this nation
shall be critically judged by the uncommitted millions in Asia and
Africa, and anxiously watched by the still hopeful lovers of freedom
behind the Iron Curtain. If we fail to meet the challenge of either
Soviet or Western imperialism, then no amount of foreign aid, no
aggrandizement of armaments, no new pacts or doctrines or high-level
conferences can prevent further setbacks to our course and our security.
In contrast to Senator Kennedy, many Democratic and Republican opponents of Eisenhower’s stand on the Suez argued that, since we could not, or dared not, take any action to stop Soviet Russia’s bloody suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, we should not have insisted that Israel, Britain and France withdraw from Egyptian territory. By some strange logic which can be understood only by acceptance of the premise that two wrongs make a right, some eminent conservative senators and columnists who on other issues could always be counted upon to take a principled stand, argued (as did Henry Hazlett in the National Review of February 9, 1957) that Israel should not be compelled to obey the United Nations by evacuating the Gaza Strop unless there was also “an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Hungary and from every other satellite nation where they are not wanted.”
Thus, once again, as when Palestine was partitioned, it was considered just and proper by many Americans that the Arabs should be called upon to pay the penalty for Europe and America’s sins of commission or omission. In 1947, when Truman and Stalin jointly pressured the United Nations to establish the State of Israel at the expense of the inhabitants of Palestine, the argument which won approval for this act of injustice against the Arabs was the need to make restitution to the Jews for their abominable treatment by Nazi Germany, and to provide a home for the Jewish victims of persecution whom we ourselves refused to admit to our lands. Ten years later a majority in Congress, including even Senators Knowland and Bridges, who supported the administration’s stand on the Suez War, were in effect saying that because we dared not risk war with Soviet imperialism by effectively supporting the Hungarian fighters for freedom, the Arabs must again be penalized, lest it be said that Israel was punished for her aggression while Soviet Russia went unscathed. Fortunately, President Eisenhower, as he himself said on February 20, 1957, did not believe that two wrongs make a right. Undeterred by the clamor in Congress and the press, Secretary of State Dulles backed the United Nations in its successful endeavor to force or persuade Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and from Sharm el-Sheikh on the Gulf of Aquaba.
In my interview with Nasser, when I brought up the subject of Hungary, he did not pretend, like Pandit Nehru, that Russia was not imperialist, or condone her oppression of the Hungarians. Instead he said that the Anglo-French attack on Egypt had been an attempt to subjugate a free country, whereas Russia’s action in Hungary was comparable to France’s in Algeria: both were seeking to retain possession of a colony by suppressing a native rebellion.
Such distinctions are unimportant in comparison with the undeniable fact that the West’s case against the Soviet Empire is immeasurably weakened by such acts of imperialist aggression as the Anglo-French-Israel attack on Egypt, and by France’s suppression of the Algerian Liberation movement.
Whether or not it is true, as has been alleged, that the bombing of Egypt encouraged Moscow to go all out in her bloody suppression of the Hungarian revolt, it is certainly true that it diverted the attention of the “uncommitted” countries of Asia and Africa and thus caused far less damage to the Communist cause among the neutrals than would otherwise have been the case.
We feel much more deeply the wrongs and sufferings of members of our own family than we do those inflicted on our neighbors. Just as we Americans, because of our kinship with Europeans, were much more outraged over the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution than we were over the invasion of Egypt, so contrariwise in Asian and African eyes the invasion of Egypt was far more alarming and brought far greater condemnation than Russia’s re-occupation of Hungary. And to ties of kinship of blood and culture was added the force of kinship of experience, since in Africa and Asia the Suez War revived fears of the reestablishment of British or French colonial rule. Even the Sudan and Iraq, which had no love for Egypt, rallied to her support because, as Dr. Ibrahim Anis, the Sudanese Ambassador to Washington, said to me later, “We feared that if Britain re-conquered Egypt, we would suffer the same fate.”
By intervening on Egypt’s side against England, France and Israel, Soviet Russia was enabled to redeem herself in African and Asian eyes, or at least to cover up her own far bloodier and more ruthless aggression against Hungary. Thus it has been said that England and French helped Moscow to suppress the Hungarian Revolution by their attack on Egypt. This is, no doubt, an exaggeration since, given their fear, and America’s, of a war with Russia, nothing would probably have been done to restrain the Kremlin even had there been no Suez War. That war is finished, and its consequences to the West rendered far less harmful than they would have been had America not taken her stand on principle and thus to a large extent redeemed “the West” in Arab eyes.
We are, however, still faced with the Algerian problem, which, like Israel, has now become our problem, and one concerning which we can no longer afford to behave like Pontius Pilate. In the case of Algeria, as in that of Israel, we shall neither retain nor win friends or exert influence if we continue to shirk our responsibility.
France enjoys a unique position in America. We excuse her when we would condemn others. We continue to regard her as the fount of liberty and the cultural center of the West, although she no longer has any valid claim to these distinctions. While we treat England as a wife whom we may disagree with and even chastise while remaining sure of the unbreakable bond between us, we treat France more like a beloved mistress to whom everything must be forgiven, because we fear losing her or because we dread her tantrums. Thus the American record concerning French imperialism is worse than it is with respect to British or Israeli imperialism. We have exerted pressure on Britain on various occasion to hasten her relinquishment of imperial privileges or powers; and although we have financially supported Israel, we have also restrained her, and we have refused her arms to match those being supplied to Egypt by Russia. But we have done nothing, except occasionally make a feeble verbal plea, to induce France to come to terms with the Algerian Liberation movement instead of continuing her futile, bloody and costly endeavor to suppress it. Worst of all, we have acquiesced in her utilization in Algeria of NATO divisions together with the American weapons, planes and other equipment intended for the defense of Europe, thus making ourselves a party to the suppression of the Algerian resistance.
Being thus involved, it is as immoral and hypocritical as it is dangerous for us to continue pretending that the bloody struggle in Algeria is an “internal” French problem which does not concern us or the United Nations. In Senator Kennedy’s words:
The war in Algeria, engaging more than 400,000 French soldiers, has stripped
the continental forces of NATO to the bone. It has dimmed Western hopes for a
European common market, and seriously compromised the liberalizing reforms of
OEEC, by causing France to impose new import restrictions under a war-time
economy. It has repeatedly been appealed for discussion to the United Nations,
where our equivocal remarks and opposition to its consideration have damaged
our leadership and prestige in that body. It has undermined our relations with
Tunisia and Morocco, who naturally have a sense of common cause with the
aims of Algerian leaders, and who have felt proper grievance that out economic
and military base settlements have heretofore required clearance with a French
government now taking economic reprisal for their assistance to Algerian
It has diluted the effective strength of the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Middle
East, and our foreign aid and information programs. It has endangered the
continuation of some of our most strategic air bases, and threatened our
geographical advantages over the Communist orbit. It has affected our
standing in the eyes of the free world, our leadership in the fight to keep that
world free, our prestige, and our security. It has furnished powerful ammunition
to the anti-Western propagandists throughout Asia and the Middle East – and
will be the most troublesome item facing the October conference in Accra of
the free nations of Africa, who hope, by easing the transition to independence
of other African colonies, to seek common paths by which the great continent
can remain aligned with the West.
France’s claim that Algeria is an “integral part” of France is nonsense based on fiction. Its Moslem inhabitants, who outnumber the French settlers eight to one, have never been treated as French citizens, nor have any but a small minority desired to become Frenchmen. This, of course, is hard for the French to understand, since, in their conceit, they imagine that there can be no higher goal. Educated Algerians, like Tunisians, Moroccans and many Egyptians, having studied in French schools and universities, appreciate French culture as much or more than American Francophiles. This cultural affinity was France’’ trump card, but she discarded it by her failure in North Africa to apply any of the three great principles of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Moreover, very few of France’s colonial subjects get any education at all.
The plain fact is that Algeria is a colony, ruled over and held down by nineteenth-century methods which are unworkable once a subject people acquires national consciousness and a thirst for liberty and has the courage and cohesion to fight for freedom and independence. The irony of the situation lies in the fact that France, which finds it difficult to govern itself, claims the right to govern others, clings to her overseas empire without the economic strength or military power and prestige to maintain it, and claims Great Power status while depending on American subsidies to keep her own economy going and to equip the armed forces she employs to suppress the rebellion of those she holds in subjection. Her attempt failed in Indo-China in spite of the billion dollars directly or indirectly contributed by America. There she lost all, gave the Communists their chance to acquire part of her former territory, and – as I learnt in Saigon in September 1956 – left a legacy of hatred or contempt for France. She relinquished her hold on Morocco and Tunisia at the eleventh hour, saving something from the wreckage. But instead of preserving and developing such friendly sentiments and cultural and economic ties as remained, she is now alienating both countries by her behavior in Algeria -–and by the rebuffs she has administered to the Sultan of Morocco and President Bourguiba of Tunisia, whenever these pro-Western Arab statesmen have endeavored to bring peace through negotiation and compromise between the Algeria nationalists and France.
The Moroccans and Tunisians, besides their fellow feeling for those still under the French yoke, fear the consequences to themselves should American arms enable France to crush the Algerian Liberation forces. They have reason to believe that General Juin was speaking for France when he said: “We must win in Algeria. If we triumphed in Algeria, we could then reconsider what we gave to Tunisia and Morocco. If we did not, we should lose what we still have in those countries.”
This statement, published in the Paris paper Le Monde in May, 1957, was, of course, broadcast by the Cairo “Voice of the Arabs” with telling effect as proof that “French imperialism still harbors malice toward Tunisia and Morocco.”
In sum, by her Algerian policy, or rather by her reliance on brute force in place of a policy – as also on account of her not only having sent jet planes to Israel but also French pilots to help her fly them in her war against Egypt – France has united the Arab world against her.
Even Iraq helps the Algerian Liberation Army. This I learned at a Washington reception, when a member of the Iraqui Embassy, defending his country in an argument with a girl refugee from Palestine, claimed that his country has materially helped the Algerians.
This incident is one among many I could relate to show the solidarity of the Arab world on both the Algerian and the Israeli issues. It has been revealing to observe at cocktail parties at the embassies of many of the Islamic countries, the cordial and friendly relations between their representatives, even at times when Egypt and Syria were supposed to have been “isolated” from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Nor is the underlying solidarity – or, at least, recognition of a common interest and identity – confined to the Arab countries. I learned this, thanks to having been in India, Pakistan and Iran in November 1956, as also on account of a personal experience in America the following spring. The New York Times had published a letter of mine giving the “other side” in the Suez Canal controversy, and I had also written an article in National Review called “Dissent on Egypt,” which was widely distributed by the American Council on Islamic Affairs. Either by letter or by personal expressions of appreciation in Washington, I received thanks from representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and Sudan, and Tunisia, as well as Syria and Egypt.
As in the case of Egypt, sympathy for the Algerians is not confined to the Arab world, but extends to all countries in Asia which were formerly subject to Western imperialism. In the words of the Pakistan Ambassador to the United States, Syed Ahjad Ali, in a speech to the American Friends of the Middle East in 1955:
The keynote to the international relations of the modern nationalistic states
of the Middle East is nationalistic agitation against any type of foreign
control. . . . Even after the emergence of independent governments in
recent years, Western powers, especially Britain and France, retained
considerable economic and military privileges. North Africa is still
struggling for elementary political rights. Unless these can be achieved
the forces of nationalism are bound to find their main expression in anti-
imperialist agitation [instead of internal development.]
The Eisenhower Doctrine will avail us little if we take no account of this basic fact. Having enlarged our world responsibilities to include the Middle East, we can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while France continues to undermine the free world politically, morally and militarily by her war against the people of Algeria. For that in fact is what it is. The Algerian Liberation forces, according to the testimony of the very few English and American correspondents who have had the opportunity to observe them, are a national army. For instance, Donald Beichman, after spending three days and nights with the rebels in their secret command posts across the Tunisian border, reported in the July 29, 1957, issue of Newsweek: “It is difficult to call it anything but an army. From what I saw, it has discipline, manpower, weapons, command, and spirit. It is not a rabble.”
An Englishman, Peter Thornycroft, gave the same testimony in pictures, when NBC showed the film which recorded his much longer sojourn with the Algerian Liberation army. The showing of this film was preceded by Mr. Thornycroft’s statement that he admitted being prejudiced against the French because they had knocked out several of his teeth and broken both of his wrists – thus subjecting his to the same treatment many Algerians have suffered at French hands. French brutality has incited the Algerians in their turn to mass murder of innocent people by placing time bombs in public places and to assassination of individual Frenchmen and their Moslem collaborators. As in Palestine, a cycle of injustice, retaliation and counter-retaliation has become faster and more furious, each evil deed producing more and more outrages committed by both sides.
Prejudiced or not, Mr. Thornycroft’s film, showing the Liberation army in training and action, the victims of French bombing and burning of villages, and the Algerian nurses tending the wounded in hidden retreats, constitutes irrefutable testimony that the French are up against a resistance movement more formidable than was their own during the years of German occupation.
Some Frenchmen distinguished by their moral courage have pointed up the parallel. For instance, in April, 1957, M. Jacques Peyrega, Dean of the Algiers Law School, made public a letter he had written to the Minister of National Defense, Bourges-Manoury, in which, after describing outrages and crimes he had himself witnessed, he wrote as follows:
When one is on the scene, when one hears all those rumors, when one
has examples of their probable truth, one is seized with horror, one tells
oneself that the Germans, under the Nazi regime, also did not want to
know that they were being held responsible for horrors and that they
too thought that it was only a case of a few abuses.
Similarly, T.T. Servan-Schreiber (a reporter of Mendes-France, who let Tunisia go free), in a book called Lieutenant in Algeria, has given an eyewitness account of French shooting of innocent Algerians. He recounts how when he protested he was told that scruples were suitable only for a Paris salon, and how the killings were “justified” on the assumption that every Arab is a potential rebel. This, of course, implies that the only way France can hold on to Algeria is by genocide.
A few other Frenchmen, Englishmen and Americans have described the Nazi-type methods of the French, including torture of prisoners by the gonflage a l’eau (forcible injection of water by a reverse stomach pump), and by the electric-shock belt-device perfected by the Gestapo. And by 1956 there were reported to be 40,000 Arabs interned in vast filthy concentration camps outside Algeria, according to Paul Johnson, assistant editor of the British labor-liberal New Statesman, in his book The Suez War (New York: 1957).
Whereas in England the Labor Party, which is generally anti-imperialist, condemned the attack on Egypt, in France where a Socialist government was in power at the time of the Suez War, Socialists cheered like everyone else. Similarly as regards Algeria, the myth that Algeria is a part of France has been staunchly upheld by the Socialists, who had no scruples in repressing the native rebellion with fire and sword. There is, however, some opposition, led by Andre Philip, who in a book called Socialism Betrayed calls the Port Said expedition a sin, and France’s Algerian policy “a crime.” And on the conservative side, a third book, also published in Paris in 1957, entitled The Algerian Tragedy, by the world renowned writer on the staff of Figaro, Raymond Aron, demonstrates that Algeria is not, and cannot be, an integral part of France and that “Algerian nationality” must be recognized, as much for economic and demographic reasons as because of the insurrection.
France’s failure during the past three years to defeat the Liberation army, although her armed forces in Algeria must outnumber it by at least four to one, affords evidence of the strength of the Algerian Liberation movement. All her modern American equipment – including helicopters, which are the weapons most dreaded by the rebels – have not sufficed to crush the fierce and determined resistance of the Algerians, because, although they are ill-equipped in comparison with the French, they can rely on the greater part of the population for aid and support in their guerilla warfare. Month by month and year by year, France’s brutal repression and her inability to protect her collaborators from reprisals inflicted by the underground, or by the army of Liberation, drives more and more Algerians into the ranks of the rebels. At the beginning of the revolt their numbers amounted to only a few thousand; by 1956-57 the Liberation army was estimated at around 100,000 men. Yet France goes on trying, at a cost of blood, treasure and reputation incalculably greater then any future material benefit she would secure, even if she succeeded in maintaining her colonial role in Algeria.
Lovers of France, who would have us continue to foster her illusion that she is still a Great Power by aiding and abetting her in her futile and brutal endeavor to keep the Algerians in subjection, are in reality doing her a great disservice. America would prove a better friend of France if we gave support to those Frenchmen who are sufficiently intelligent and courageous to face up to realities, who understand that France is ruining herself economically, as well as morally and politically, by her present course. We could, and should, shock France into facing realities by serving notice on her that she can no longer count on America for dollars, arms and political support in the United Nations whenever the Algerian issue is raised.
Hitherto we have done precisely the opposite. In 1955, when the United Nations Security Committee was asked to place the Algerian issue on the agenda of the National Assembly, the United States representative insisted that the matter could not properly be discussed because Algeria is an “integral part” ”f France. In 1956-57, when in spite of us the Assembly listened to the Arab States’ appeal on behalf of the Algerians, Ambassador Lodge voted to postpone discussion for yet another year, and once again expressed firm faith in France’s good intentions in Algeria.
Meanwhile Ambassador Dillon in Paris was as usual providing grist for the Communist propaganda mills. Inspired, no doubt, by his all-consuming love of France and desire to please her, he put America in the worst possible light in Asia and African eyes when he told a French audience that he “recalled with pride” that the “United States has consistently supported France when North African subjects have been discussed in the United Nations.” After also calling attention to American military equipment made available for French use in Algeria, our former ambassador to France proclaimed that the United States “stands solemnly behind France in her search for a liberal and equitable solution of the problem in Algeria.”
Just how “liberal” and “equitable” France’s solution was, then as now, being amply demonstrated by military repression, the obliteration by American-made jet fighter-bombers of villages suspected of harboring or aiding the rebel forces; mass arrests and imprisonment of suspects, Gestapo-like methods of extracting confessions and administering collective punishment, and refusal to negotiate with the National Liberation front, unless and until the Algerian nationalists agreed beforehand to give up their struggle for freedom and independence.
In El Maujahid, the organ of the National Liberation front, issued in the French language by the publishing house called Resistance Algerianne, “the historic mission of the Algerian revolution” is stated to be “the final destruction of the odious and decadent colonial regime which is the obstacle to peace and progress.”
The means by which the Algerians expect to win are stated to be: “total weakening” of the French army; the deterioration on a grand scale of the colonial economy by means of sabotage, rendering normal administration impossible; maximum disturbance of the French “economic and social system” in order to render continuance of the war impossible; and “the political isolation of France in Algerian and the world.” Since the Algerians have demonstrated their determination to go on fighting – and have good cause to believe that if enough of them are ready to die for liberty, France will be unable, in only for financial reasons, to continue the war – France will, sooner or later, be compelled to let Algeria have her liberty. The longer she delays the more she is likely to lose, since the more bitter the war becomes, the less chance there is of a settlement which would save something for France from the wreckage.
The best that France can hope for is a settlement which would enable the million or more French in Algeria, while losing their master-race status, to retain their lands and live in security in an Arab State; but these “colons,” who are responsible for the worst outrages against the Arabs, constitute the main obstacle to a settlement. France is underpopulated rather than overpopulated, and some of her fertile land is uncultivated or undercultivated. But, like Mussolini, who at the time of the Abyssinian War wanted the most unruly elements in Italy “to die as heroes or stay as colonists,” France does not want her “colons” in Algeria to come home and make trouble. Their return is desired least of all by the Socialists who fear they would reinforce the reactionary “Right” or “Fascist” elements in France – which may be one reason why the Socialist government of M. Mollet appointed the diehard Robert Lacoste as Governor-General of Algeria and increased the number of French troops in Algeria from 250,000 to 400,000 when Lacoste claimed that this would enable him to crush the rebellion (which he has singularly failed to do).
Up to now the leaders of the Algerian rebellion have both held off from association with the Communists and abjured any intention of “throwing Algerians of European origin into the sea.” Their struggle, they say, is neither a civil war nor a religious war. Their “war aims” are proclaimed in the following words, which I have translated from the French original version: “The Algerian Revolution aims at the conquest of national independence in order to establish a democratic and social republic guaranteeing real equality among all its citizens without discrimination.”
History shows that the harder and longer the struggle for national liberation, the greater the power and influence acquired by extremists. Hence the stupidity of France in failing to come to terms with the Algerians before extremists get control of the Liberation movement. To quote Senator Kennedy once again:
The fever chart of every successful revolution – including, of course,
the French – reveals a rising temperature of terrorism and counter-
terrorism; but this does not of itself invalidate the legitimate goals that
fired the original revolution. Most political revolutions – including our
own – have been buoyed by outside aid in men, weapons and ideas.
Instead of abandoning African nationalism to the anti-Western agitators
and Soviet agents who hope to capture its leadership, the United States,
a product of political revolution, must redouble its efforts to earn the
respect and friendship of nationalist leaders.
Another friend of France, Mr. David Schoenbrun, writes in his book, As France Goes:
France must either gamble on the friendship of a free North Africa
or get out of North Africa completely. It should be evident after the
Egyptian fiasco that France cannot impose her will upon some 22
million Africans indefinitely. Sooner or later the French will have
to recognize the existence of an Algerian state. The sooner, the
cheaper in terms of money, men, and a chance to salvage something
from the wreckage of the French Union.
France’s hope that she will be able to recoup the huge financial loss she is incurring by her Algerian war through exploiting the oil riches of the Sahara will prove to be nothing but a mirage, unless and until she lets Algeria go free – simply because it is practically impossible to get the oil out through the rebel territory which separates the newly discovered oil fields from the Mediterranean.
If the French were the intelligent, enlightened and logically minded people they pride themselves on being, they would long since have recognized that their brutal game in Algeria is not worth the candle. And if the United States would, at long last, cease giving political support and financial and arms aid to France, she would be forced to realize the bankruptcy of her policy. Thus, we might at one and the same time save France and salvage our own reputation as the champion of freedom and self-determination of all peoples.
Perhaps nothing can bring France to reason and cause her to follow England’s example in giving up colonies which are no longer profitable. If so, then we must regretfully decide to let France take her own road to perdition without us. For, even if Paris was worth a mass in the days of Henry of Navarre, today all France is not worth the alienation of the entire Arab world and the betrayal of her own faith in liberty.
France herself has helped to make all the Middle Eastern countries concern themselves with Algeria. For instance, George Weller reported from Damascus in a dispatch published in the Chicago Daily News on May 31, 1957, that when back in 1955 Syria sought to avoid accepting Czechoslovakia’s long-standing offer to provide tanks and jet planes denied her by America and Britain, Syria as a last resort begged them from France. But as the Syrian Chief of Staff told Weller, “The first condition France made to selling us arms was that Radio Damascus and Radio Cairo must silence their broadcasts about Algeria. . . . We use Soviet arms,” he continued, “only because the West has let us down.”
I knew George Weller well in China du ring 1945-46, when he was one of the few American correspondents there who never fell for the Chinese Communist propaganda line. He is one of the most intelligent, perceptive correspondents I ever met, and he has always tried to tell the truth without fear or favor – hence the value of his dispatches from the Middle East, giving the Syrian side of the case. His account of the present situation on the Israeli-Syrian border, published on June 5, 1957, shows why the Syrian Government needs the arms denied her by the West. In a dispatch from Daughters of Jacob Bridge he wrote:
On the strained Jordan River front where Syria confronts Israel, however, the
UN’s peacemaking is in decline. For nearly 10 years UN border patrols have
been steadily losing authority, mainly in Israel.
UN morale is low. UN officers are discouraged, apathetic or even
humiliated. . . .
The piecemeal pressure wearing down the United Nations comes largely
not from the ragged refugees but from dynamic Israel.
Syria, weaker and less aggressive than Israel, has been a poor second
in chipping away UN authority.
In the words of one Scandinavian UN officer: “When Israel breaks
the truce it is a mistake but when Syria infringes it is a crime. . . .”
These . . . [armed forays] have left on both sides of the Jordan and the
eastern side of Tiberias an array of bombed and bombarded villages,
terrified and resentful Arab farmers and UN officers helplessly waving
Only a fraction of the United Nations’ humiliation reaches the
international public. Its setbacks are often suppressed by careerminded
officers unwilling to commit their defeats to paper.
In the same dispatch Mr. Weller contrasts these “setbacks” on the Jordan River front with the success of “quick, courageous action by the UN and disciplined neutral trop movements” on the Suez-Gaza front, which “smoothed the way to peace.”
Unhappily, as we have already observed, the fruits of the United Nations action on Suez, backed by the United States, are now in danger of withering on the vine. Russia, taking advantage of the lottle cold war we are waging against Egypt, is spreading the idea, easily accepted by Arabs, whose past experience renders them suspicious of the West, that the United States is seeking to step into Britain’s vacated imperialist position, by keeping the Middle East divided and impotent. However, Nasser himself, to judge from his most recent speeches and interviews, is still giving America credit for our stand on Suez and still hoping for an entente with the United States and Britain to extricate him and his people from the Soviet embrace.
On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution in July, immediately after the military parade displaying Soviet Tanks and planes, the Egyptian president acknowledged that “we cannot deny America’s attitude during the aggression and the condemnation of such aggression, as well as its attitudes in the United Nations.” But naturally he also expressed his disappointment or “bitterness” at America’s changed attitudes following the Suez War: “They plotted the starvation of the people. . . . America refused to sell wheat to us, intending to cause famine and so realize by peaceful means the objectives which France and Britain realized by war.”
In the words of Time magazine, the tone of Nasser’s speech was that of a “frustrated man with a grievance, but not that of a caged tiger.” It suggested “that he knows as well as anyone else that the only way to end his country’s economic stagnation and f ear for the future is to get back on better terms with the West.”
In an interview in Cairo in June with Basil L. Walters, Executive Editor of the Knight newspapers, Nasser showed that he understands Communist methods, and has greater political sagacity than those who have smeared him as a Communist stooge, or puppet, when he said:
The only way to save the Middle East from Communism is by helping
nationalism. If, instead, you push colonialism into a clash against nationalism
these two will destroy each other. What will survive? Communism.
The reason Communism is sure to win such a struggle is because
Communist leaders are far better trained as underground organizers than
nationalists. The Communists won the innocent nationalists into their
control by playing on their patriotic sentiments.
It should be noted that Nasser and his “junta,” in screening the lists of candidates for the Egyptian “Parliament” for whom the electorate might vote, struck off the names of known Communists, as well as of the other extremists, the Moslem Brotherhood, described by George Weller as a sort of Arab Ku Klux Klan.
Gamal Abdel Nasser is distinguished by his quick wit as well as by his charm which friends and enemies alike recognize, and which the latter regard as his secret weapon. Replying to Mr. Weller’s query, “Are you a dictator?” he said:
Dictator or liberator, it’s how you look at it. Lincoln used to tell the
fable of a shepherd who prevented a wolf from eating his sheep. To
the sheep he was a liberator. But to the wolf he was a dictator.
In his account of this interview, published in the Chicago Daily News on June 17, 1957, Mr. Walters stated a truth ignored by others who think in stereotypes of a past era. “Dictator or liberator,” Mr. Walters wrote, “Nasser does not fit into the usual pattern of either. Like so many young men of the Middle East, he is something brand new and old labels don’t apply.” Or perhaps Nasser is not brand new, but rather a representative in the Middle East today of the forces similar to those which made the nations of Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The British authors of the Penguin Special entitled Middle East Crisis, to which I referred in an earlier chapter, describe Nasser as “the leader and symbol of those who wish to unify, or at least to lead, the Arab lands”; and they compare the Arab world today, divided into a number of soverign states, with Germany a hundred years ago:
Among the intelligentsia is the conviction that the state of affairs is
transitory, and that somehow Arabia should be unified, either by
federation or by the triumph of one of the Arab countries over the
others. As in Germany, the resistance from the so-called particularist
groups is strong. Unification would destroy many vested interests.
But the aspiration to unify is genuine.
Nasser’s enemies endeavoring to paint him in fascist and Nazi colors, have gone so far as to compare his short book, The Philosophy of the Revolution, with Hitler’s Mein Kampf. No one who has read Nasser’s book can accept this thesis. On the contrary, it shows that, far from being a fanatic nationalist, he is seeking for a way to ensure freedom, dignity and progress for his people, without any clear notion as to how it can be done.
In keeping with the fact that the Egyptians are traditionally the least Arab of the “Arabs,” regarding themselves rather as heirs of the Pharaohs than as sons of the Prophet, Nasser’s original ambition would seem to have been that of becoming a new Rameses (whose statues he is supposed to resemble) rather than a modern Caliph. In his own words, in an interview with Keith Wheeler published in Life magazine:
Here we are ready to be Arabs, but also we have been Egyptian for
6,000 years, and why should we give that up? There have been many
plans for Arab unity, but they all failed because they meant political
union and the people suspected they really meant the leaders wanted
to dominate. This is why I could not plan any domination even if I
The forces of history were too strong for Nasser to become simply an Egyptian nationalist. As Guy Wint and Peter Calvocoressi write: “He is called upon from many sides to be the Bismarck of Arabia, and to unite his peoples from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf.”
In an oft-quoted passage of his book, Nasser himself writes:
The pages of history are full of heroic and glorious roles which
never found heroes to perform them. It seems to me that in the Arab
circle there is a role wandering in search of a hero. This role,
exhausted by its wanderings, has at last settled down, tired and
weary, near the border of our country, and is beckoning to us to
move, to take up its lines, to put on its costume, since no one else
is qualified to play it.
Egypt resisted and stemmed the Mongol tide which ravaged the Arab world to the north and wiped out the flourishing civilization of the Euphrates and Tigris valley. Her universities and schools provide teachers all over the Arab world, and she has for centuries been recognized as its cultural center. Her geographical position makes her the link between the Arab world of Asia and that of North Africa. Her population of twenty-four million makes her the largest of the Arab states. Although Nasser may fail in his attempt to make her predominantly non-Arab population behave like Arab heroes, the leading role of Egypt in the Arab struggle for independence and strength through unity is not to be denied. As another perceptive British writer, the Right Honorable Anthony Nutting, who resigned his position as British Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in protest against the attack on Egypt, wrote in the May 12, 1957 issue of the New York Herald Tribune:
Because the rulers of the inter-war years accepted the division of
the Arab world, and their successors were too indolent or corrupt
to try and change it, Nasser has become a popular hero whose
picture adorns the bazaars from Marakesh to Bahrein. Not only
does Nasser claim to have thrown off the yolk of those who
divided Arabia, but many of the inarticulate masses see in him
the promise of that unity without which they cannot treat on
equal terms with the West and with Israel.
In sum, the only hopeful course for America and the free world to steer in the Middle East is, as John C. Campbell writes in the April 1957 issue of Foreign Affairs, “one which frankly accepts Arab aspirations for self-determination, equality and independence, but sets limits to support of extreme claims which deny these rights to others.”
When I was in the Middle East last December, I saw Arab peoples once more turn their faces toward the West, as Eisenhower’s intervention in the Suez War reawakened the same hopes that had been raised by Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points almost forty years ago. Since my return, I have realized from the dispatches in the press that Arab enthusiasm for the United States was giving way to bewilderment, as succeeding American policy seemed to contradict our previous strong stand against the Anglo-French-Israeli aggression. Now I learn from Americans who visited the Middle East in the summer of 1957, and from Arab friends there who are friendly to America, that a reversal in the Arab attitude toward the United States is taking place.
Whereas the Eisenhower intervention in the Suez War was first regarded as an expression of traditional American devotion to freedom and justice, it is now increasingly regarded as a cynical time-serving action by which the United States hoped to make easy its inheritance of the imperialist role of Britain and France in the Middle East. The enunciation of the Eisenhower Doctrine; our dispatch of the Sixth Fleet to Western Mediterranean waters; our bolstering up of Kin Husein’s government against the opposition of the majority of his people favoring Arab solidarity; our efforts to isolate Nasser and to force King Saud into opposition to him; our continued refusal to speak out against Israeli megalomaniac ambitions and for justice to the refugees she has dispossessed; our indirect bolstering of France in her crushing of the Algerian Liberation movement – all these, in Arab eyes, make the American action during the Suez Canal Crisis seem only a new method of achieving the old, familiar imperialist end. Once more, it appears to the African and Asiatic peoples, the West is preparing both to betray its own ideals and to frustrate the legitimate aspirations of the “lesser breeds.”
Thus the Arab-China parallel continues. My friends also report that, more and more, the Arabs are looking to Soviet Russia for support. They are careful to distinguish, I am told, between “Soviet Russia” and “Communism.” It is not an ideology that they seek, but help to realize their own, non-Communist aspirations, which require arms to protect themselves against aggression and economic aid to develop the good life they desire. So, tragically, the Arabs, like the Chinese before them, repulsed by the West, may fall for the old illusion: that help from Russia does not mean submission to Communism.
If we in the United States with to turn the tide back in our favor, and to save the Middle East from the Communist threat, we too must rid ourselves of a long-standing illusion: the illusion that America and Europe are one and the same. True, the United States is part of the West, and many of our traditions and devotions are the same as those of Europe. But America is much more than Europe transplanted overseas. In essence, the United States afforded Europe the opportunity to make a new beginning in new surroundings, where the richness of an unused continent presented the hope that Western man could purge himself and his institutions of wrongs and injustices that had corrupted the European ideal.
When, in the course of history, the men transplanted from the old continent to the new raised a banner inscribed with the words “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they no longer called themselves Europeans, but Americans.
It is not America’s role to turn back to Europe – to identify herself with the old ways from which we fled. America’s role is not to support the decadence of Europe, but to recall her to her better self; not to bolster up the privileges and perquisites of dying principalities and powers, but to speak for liberty, justice, and decent living for individual men.
It was with this hope that the first settlers turned their eyes West; and it has been for these things that many people, including myself, have followed them in later years. If the United States will reassert with pride her devotion to the ideals that have made her great – and formulate these ideals, as she can if she will, in terms of practical policy – then the peoples of the Middle East, along with all the others in the world who desire so greatly the things that Americans both represent and enjoy, will also turn West. For then they will know that to turn West means not subjugation, but Freedom.