Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • Thursday, December 12, 2013
  • Elder of Ziyon
From the WSJ:

Book Review: 'America's Great Game,' by Hugh Wilford

by Michael Doran

Kim Philby, the British turncoat who spied for the Soviet Union, described Kermit Roosevelt as "a courteous, soft-spoken Easterner with impeccable social connections, well-educated rather than intellectual, pleasant and unassuming as host and guest." Theodore Roosevelt's grandson, Philby thought, was "the last person that you would expect to be up to the neck in dirty tricks."

Roosevelt, who headed the CIA's Middle East division in the Eisenhower administration, is best remembered today for engineering the coup that toppled Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. But in "America's Great Game," Hugh Wilford reminds us that Roosevelt was also deeply involved in the Arab world. Indeed, he was the agency's foremost "Arabist." The term usually refers to State Department regional experts who were the intellectual, and often biological, descendants of American missionaries in the Arab lands. These officials were fiercely anti-Zionist, convinced that American support for Israel was a strategic blunder of the first order. This was because, as Mr. Wilford writes, they believed "in the overriding importance of American-Arab, and Christian-Muslim, relations."

The book examines the role of CIA Arabists by tracing the careers of Roosevelt and two of his comrades: his cousin Archie and Miles Copeland, an Alabama jazz musician who, like many in the early CIA, wound up at the agency through his work in its wartime precursor, the Office of Strategic Services.

The author, a historian at California State University, Long Beach, makes deft use of declassified government documents. He also draws on the personal papers and memoirs of CIA agents and their associates, sources that until now have remained almost entirely untapped. We learn, for example, that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles often ran important diplomatic missions through Roosevelt rather than normal State Department channels. But the most important of the Arabists' efforts was the attempt, in Eisenhower's first term, to turn Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's charismatic strongman, into a strategic partner—a gambit that failed miserably.
I noted a number of years ago that Time magazine (as well as other mainstream media) fawned over Nasser as the greatest hope for coming generations, "with the lithe grace of a big, handsome All-America fullback" who had "a row of regular, white teeth and a brilliant, easy smile" who really wanted to push Egypt towards democracy. It never occurred to me that the CIA might have arranged the interview!

Who needs PR firms?

...The Middle East in the 1950s offered surprising opportunities for such men. Kim was, for instance, the motive force behind the 1951 founding of the American Friends of the Middle East. Seemingly a private outfit dedicated to citizen diplomacy, it was actually a CIA front that sought to weaken support for the Jewish state in the U.S. You read that right: The CIA created an early counterbalance to the pro-Israel lobby, promoting an anti-Zionist reading of the region until 1967, when the radical magazine Ramparts exposed agency funding to domestic organizations.

The Roosevelt cousins, Copeland and other leading Arabists believed that a century of American missionary activity had paved the way for a Pax Americana in the region—if only the Israelis could be sidelined. The early Eisenhower administration was their heyday. Eisenhower and Dulles gave such professionals in the State Department and the CIA carte blanche. But the Arabists' massive efforts notwithstanding, Nasser drifted into the Soviet orbit and began spreading nationalist revolt throughout the region.

Why? In answering this question, Mr. Wilford rehashes the conventional wisdom, which holds that, despite its generally pro-Arab stance—including taking Egypt's side against Britain, France and Israel in the 1956 Suez Crisis—the U.S. under the Eisenhower administration still followed in the footsteps of empire and maligned the Arabs. The author might have questioned the core assumptions of the Arabists: Was sidelining Israel really the best way to create a Mideast Pax Americana? Would anti-Western Arabs led by Nasser ever have proved reliable U.S. allies?

But this criticism is a quibble. Mr. Wilford is a careful historian, with no Middle Eastern ax to grind. The main goal of "America's Great Game" is to shed light on the role of the CIA in the Middle East. It succeeds magnificently.

Mr. Doran, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense in 2007-08, is a senior fellow of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He is writing a book on Eisenhower and the Middle East.
Looking for "American Friends of the Middle East" in old newspaper clippings  gives one a sense of déjà vu - they sound a lot like J-Street today. See this 1956 article in the Tuscaloosa News:

And this from the New York Times, October 11, 1955 again sounds just like the purportedly "pro-Israel-pro-peace" groups of today that are anything but:

The only differences are that, today, the groups saying this nonsense are headed by Jews. And in the 1950s, everyone was smart enough to realize that any such group saying they were "pro-Israel" and "worried about anti-semitism" was spouting self-serving garbage.

Unfortunately, today's Jews are not quite as bright as they were sixty years ago.

The CIA might have created the group, but who funded it? According to this book - the Saudis!

Follow they money and lots of interesting things pop up.

Who is funding today's modern "Jewish" versions of that same group?

(h/t David G)

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