Eisenhower and the Middle East

President Eisenhower gave a speech to Congress in 1957 asking for support to his doctrine toward the Middle East.[1] The aim of the speech was to convince the Congress to allocate more money to help economic and defensive purposes in the region. His argument was based on the importance of filling the void left by the British after the decolonization of the Arab countries. He argued that if the United States did not fill this void, the Soviets would gain control of the region. His speech used the Middle East as a proxy battlefield between the Cold War contending powers, without not much regard to the diversity of the region and its people, cultures, hopes and dreams.

One of the marks of post-orientalism is the way the United States tried to distinguish itself from European imperialism and the orientalist mindset. So, after World War II, American policy makers acknowledged the Middle East and entertained a new type of U.S.-Middle East relationship. However, as the speech presented, American Orientalism was not that much different from European Orientalism. In his speech, Eisenhower mentioned the Middle East repeatedly but he only talked about Egypt and Israel/Palestine and neglected other countries. He described the Soviet and American activities in these two countries and generalized their contexts as the norm in the Middle East despite the uniqueness of their cases during that historical era.

The orientalist binary opposition in the speech applied the “us” versus “them” in a way that fit the Cold War era. He split the Middle East into the countries with “us”, the United States, and the countries with “them”, the Soviet Union. The speech also implied American exceptionalism and its role as the savior of the Middle East. Eisenhower told the Congress that without the help of the United States, Middle Eastern countries would not be able to stay independent or reach higher levels of development: “A greater responsibility now devolves upon the United States… The free nations of the Mideast need, and for the most part want, added strength to assure their continued independence.” Despite friendly gestures towards the Middle East, Eisenhower did not bring radically different politics after all!

Author: Amira

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[1] “Dwight D. Eisenhower: Special Message to the Congress on the Situation in the Middle East.” The American Presidency Project. Accessed April 7, 2017. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=11007&st&st1.

Source of photo: “To Do Better in the Middle East, Listen Less to Our Hearts and More to Our Experts.” Foreign Policy. Accessed May 3, 2017. http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/11/17/to-do-better-in-the-middle-east-listen-less-to-our-hearts-and-more-to-our-experts/.

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