The Middle East has long been of vital concern to U.S. policymakers, as shown by Harry Keatts Chenault Jr.’s carefully considered treatise, which centers on two presidents, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, who served during their terms.
Chenault focuses on two major flashpoints in the Middle East during the post-WWII, Cold War-era: Israel’s founding during Truman’s presidency and Egyptian President Gamal Nasser’s rise to power on Eisenhower’s watch. Via close study of the so-called Truman and Eisenhower Doctrines, Chenault examines the political calculations that led Truman to recognize Israel’s statehood before any other national leader and Eisenhower to initially oppose and ultimately reconcile himself to Nasser’s “pan-Arab” nationalist ideology.
Chenault also examines the Fulbright Declaration, which the senator issued during Eisenhower’s presidency to counter what he saw as the White House’s ineffective Middle East policy—policy he felt was usurping Congress’s authority. (Fulbright recommended, among other things, a greater effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.) Laudably, Chenault also studies Arab-language sources, including newspapers and diplomatic cables, to gauge what people in the Middle East thought about the issues he discusses.
Readers receive helpful breakdowns of pivotal events. Chenault also clearly contextualizes this period as a time of declining European power and increasing national self-determination in the Middle East. Brisk biographical sketches show how Truman, Eisenhower, and Fulbright’s backgrounds informed their ideas. For instance, Chenault explains how Truman’s reading of the Bible informed his support for Israel.
The book is occasionally disorganized, however, and stumbles in its final full-length chapter. Instead of summing up the differences between the Truman and Eisenhower Doctrines, Chenault returns to topics introduced earlier. His conclusion also fails to decisively show how Eisenhower, Truman, and Fulbright’s ideas might illuminate modern U.S. foreign policy.
Still, Chenault’s work may serve as an effective introduction for readers new to this period in history and bring new facts and insights to readers already steeped in it.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.