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A CRISIS IN CONFIDENCE
DURING recent Congressional debates on aid legislation many harsh things were said about the United Arab Republic and its President. One Senator stated that "Col. Abdel Nasser . . . has been responsible more than any other single individual for keeping the political cauldron boiling in the arid, strife-torn Middle East . . . pouring oil on whatever brush fires break out." President Nasser has been equally sharp and critical. Early in 1964 he publicly described American foreign policy toward the Arab world as "not based on justice but on the support and consolidation of the base of aggression, Israel, and we cannot, under any circumstances, accept it."
To be sure, much of this may be dismissed as political talk for the public ear. Nasser, no less than American Senators, has a constituency which periodically must be stirred up and marshaled for support. There is thus little new in the current skirmishing between Arab and American spokesmen- but those who follow U.S.A.-U.A.R. relations closely feel there ought to be. For this increased tempo in verbal attacks comes during a period of notable improvement in relations, when both the United States and the U.A.R., as a matter of basic policy, have been trying to get along with each other.
For both parties the change began in the aftermath of the Suez affair. By its prompt support of the United Nations and its refusal to back the Israeli-Anglo-French invasion, the United States gave practical proof of its impartiality in Middle East quarrels which threatened the peace of the area and the world. This was followed by a quiet mending of relations in the closing days of the Eisenhower Administration. Economic aid to Egypt was cautiously reinstituted and a franker exchange of views took place. President Kennedy supported and expanded this policy, identifying the Middle East as an area vital to American interests. He sought to develop relations with Egypt around points of mutual interest, while recognizing that the United States had, and would continue to have, sharp differences with Nasser.
In making this approach, the United States paid particular attention to economic assistance. Whatever else the revolution in Egypt stands for, it is the most vigorous attack on the perennial problems of poverty, disease, ignorance and privilege ever seen in the ancient Valley of the Nile. With a burgeoning population (doubled since 1936), severe limitation of arable land (3½ percent of the country's total area), and limited foreign exchange earnings (chiefly the cotton crop, Suez Canal tolls and tourism), it is obvious that the U.A.R. cannot forge ahead with desperately needed modernization and social advance without substantial foreign assistance.
Here was a point of mutual concern on which closer American-Egyptian relations could be built. On its part, the U.A.R. needed to develop a healthy and progressive society without being captured in the process by the Soviet bloc. But a socially stable and progressive Egypt was also in the interests of the United States, one of whose basic Middle East policies is to contribute wherever possible to tranquility through social progress in this vital region. Political and economic chaos in the Valley of the Nile would have repercussions in the surrounding area. Both in its own right, and as a major influence in the Arab world, the sound economic progress of Egypt is a desirable American objective. American economic assistance, chiefly through the P.L. 480 Food Program, was therefore increased.
Egypt's response to this approach opened a new era in U.S.A.-U.A.R. relations. A cultural agreement was signed in 1962. In 1963, after 11 years of negotiation, Egypt entered into an Investment Guarantee Agreement with the United States, aimed at stimulating and protecting American business interests. On several occasions, notably at the Economic Conference in Cairo in the summer of 1962, the U.A.R. played a moderating role in containing African and Asian extremists. Nasser opposed the Soviet resumption of nuclear testing and shifted his policy away from supporting Gizenga in the Congo. While maintaining diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.A.R. displayed little enthusiasm for Castro and took a reasonably sympathetic attitude toward President Kennedy's showdown with Khrushchev. And for the first time in some years, the controlled press in Egypt gave a fairly objective, often sympathetic, account of American actions.
Against this background of coöperation, the shrill crescendo of bitter accusation between American and Egyptian leaders strikes an ominous discord. A popular Egyptian proverb says, "One day it's honey-the next onions," After the good diet of the past three years, are American-Egyptian relations in for a ration of onions? Under the present Administration, the United States made its most determined effort to protect its interests in the Near East through a reasonable rapprochement with the U.A.R. Are all such efforts bound to be fleeting? What is it that interrupts them just when everything seems to be going well?
The answer is not to be found so much in specific policies of the two countries as in the atmosphere within which these take place. At the end of the First World War an American observer reported that "Before all else [the nations of the Near East] need renewed confidence in each other and in us, and in our honest purposes of good." That is as true today as it was 40 years ago. The day of honey in Arab-American relations so easily changes into a day of onions because there is mutual distrust of each other's "honest purposes of good." Actions in themselves relatively minor become objects of deep suspicion because they are seen as cloaks for "imperialism," "neo-colonialism," "pan-Arabism" or the personal ambitions of some Arab ruler. The crisis is often a crisis of confidence, generating a fog of suspicion which chokes good relations and makes it difficult to negotiate a lasting solution to differences.
It is a crisis in confidence which currently threatens American relations with the U.A.R. Although the mutuality of interests continues, the United States is wondering whether in the light of recent events it can trust the U.A.R. to follow a reasonably consistent course of coöperation-or will it undercut vital American interests in the Arab world at its own whim? And can the U.A.R. trust the United States to pursue its present course with continuity-or will the erratic winds of changing administrations and election pressures continually blow American foreign policy off course? It is doubt about these fundamentals of the American-Egyptian relationship which has created a crisis between the two nations.
One reason for such doubts is the very success of recent policy. Each party now finds itself playing an important role in the national interests of the other-a role in which the "capacity to hurt" is large. American food makes a massive contribution to the well-being of Egypt and is a resource on which the U.A.R. national budget is currently based. While the country could get along without it (as the aftermath of Suez shows), the withrawal of our food sales would create a serious economic problem. Moreover, the attitude of the United States influences both government and private credit resources in Western countries upon which the U.A.R. now depends for its badly needed foreign currency assistance. Thus the U.A.R. is nervous about anything which might suggest a sudden shift in American policy and scrutinizes carefully and suspiciously every American statement, fearing the worst.
But the United States also is nervous about Egypt. The U.A.R. and its President are the single most powerful force in the Arab world. With the largest and most modernly equipped Arab army, the most powerful and sophisticated propaganda system and wide appeal among the Arab masses, President Nasser has a potential which cannot be neglected by any nation having interests in the Near East. He has the power to harm American interests to a considerable degree-as the response to his call for liquidating the American air base in Libya shows. It is not simply a matter of power and ambition; Nasser typifies the socially revolutionary and politically self-determining forces which are at work in most countries of the Near East. If these forces, under the spell of Nasser's leadership, are aroused against American interests in Libya, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, they can cause much trouble, even if they might not in the end totally destroy the United States' position.
But this mutual fear is more than a current mood, bred by recent experience. There are, in fact, good reasons for the United States and Egypt to suspect each other-reasons which have a long history. Each nation has a bill of particulars against the other, drawn from the experiences of the last decade. It is this which forms the reservoir of suspicion from which a crisis of confidence is so easily drawn.
On Egypt's part, the first count against the United States is the unpredictability of its policy. American-Egyptian relations since the Revolution in 1952 amply illustrate this. In the opening stages of the new régime, America was closely and hopefully identified with it, believing that a change in social and political conditions was long overdue in the Valley of the Nile. This led to a "honeymoon" policy, when sympathy and identity of interests seemed high.
In 1955 this cordial relation abruptly changed, due to Egyptian arms purchases from the Soviets. Failing to secure military equipment from the West on acceptable terms, Nasser turned to the Soviet bloc. The American reaction was a reversal of policy, which now set itself to contain and separate Egypt from its Arab neighbors. This was the policy of "isolation"- a long cry from the "honeymoon" which preceded it.
This policy failed. The United States was unable to isolate Egypt, the Israeli-Anglo-French invasion of Egypt brought Nasser to the summit of his influence in the area, and it became clear that some new approach was needed. In the aftermath of Suez, America therefore shifted to a line that was "cautious but correct," gradually reinstituting aid and seeking at least minimal normal relations.
Under President Kennedy, this was reinforced and expanded to become a policy of "selective coöperation" built on mutual interests. In no sense was this a return to the "honeymoon," with uncritical support of all U.A.R. policies. Rather it was based upon a sense of mutual needs and a willingness to concentrate on these instead of on the many disputes which had soured past relations.
Thus in less than a decade the United States has followed four different policies toward Egypt. While each is defensible in terms of the conditions which produced it, the effect on the Egyptian is to create the impression that American actions are unpredictable, not built upon clear principles- indeed, not even built upon a consistent view of America's own interests. It is this penchant for change in the American course which makes the Egyptian reserved and suspicious of us, especially during a period when relations are good.
A second cause of Egyptian suspicion is the rapid rise of American power, particularly in and near the Middle East. Prior to the Second World War, the American presence in the Arab world consisted chiefly of missionaries, educators, archeologists and a limited number of businesses, petroleum being the largest. The United States was a threat to no one; it had no bases, no troops, no fleets, and it displayed none of the panoply of power Arabs expected from a great nation.
This changed after the war. Beginning with President Truman's commitment to the defense of Turkey and Greece in 1947, the United States played an increasing role in the area. Military bases in Morocco, Libya, Turkey and Arabia, the powerful Sixth Fleet always just across the horizon, support for the military establishments of Iran, Turkey and Greece, the landing of Marines in Lebanon-these were disturbing proofs to the Arab that the United States had become a military presence which could interfere with actions of the Arab states whenever it chose. What Great Britain once was, the United States has now become-the policeman of the world. Therefore the spectre of American might in the Middle East always lurks just off-stage and Egyptians are convinced that at some unexpected point it will step from the wings to play the dominant role in their affairs.
This fear is fed by a third suspicion-that the United States is too often in league with the forces of "imperialism and neocolonialism." What the Egyptians mean by this is not (despite the paragraph above) that America will deliberately seek to create a Middle East empire. It is that we are damned by our association with the British and the "reactionary" Arab régimes. As to Britain, many Arabs believe that the present remnants of its historic position in the Middle East are supported by the United States. While at the time of the Suez invasion in 1956 the United States joined in condemning (and thus terminating) the Anglo-French invasion, within a few days we froze Egyptian assets in America, refused to sell food and drugs to Egypt, and ended the CARE program. Obviously, it is argued, America was prepared to support Britain as far as it dared.
This identification with "imperialism" is given more substance by our interests in and association with Arab régimes which the Egyptian considers "reactionary." By this he means the monarchies of the area and their governments which he claims do not represent popular consent or the interests of the people. The Egyptian argument is that these régimes are based upon an economic and political élite who keep power against the best interests of the common masses by coöperating with the foreign power having a stake in the country. He believes that the very character of the régimes in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya (to name the current lot) drive them into subservience to Western, therefore American, power. This is the "neo-colonialism" against which the non-aligned world so frequently agitates as a threat to its untrammeled independence.
These three causes for distrust are brought to a focus in the problem that most continuously and deeply besets our relations with the Arab world-the question of Israel. There are many aspects to this tangled affair, but as regards American foreign policy the heart of the matter is that the Egyptian (and most of his fellow Arabs) believes that Israel exercises a veto power on American policy toward the Arab world. Whatever understanding of the realities of Arab life there may be in American circles, and however logically American interests can be served by at least an even-handed policy toward the Arabs, the Egyptian is convinced that when the cards are down Israel and its supporters can force the United States to make their interests paramount. Thus the Egyptian believes that no balanced American policy toward the Arab world can be permanent. Sooner or later it will run counter to Israeli interests, and when that happens, the United States Government is powerless to hold to its course.
So runs the Egyptian indictment. But Americans have equally deep suspicions of the U.A.R. Most basic is the conviction that Egypt and its President are compulsive meddlers in the affairs of their neighbors. Both openly and secretly they stir up strife, support dissident movements and seek the overthrow of régimes of which they disapprove. Even Egyptians recognize this and express themselves in one of Cairo's many jokes about the régime. According to the story, when President Nasser went to Algeria last spring, he took with him a number of movie films, one of his favorite forms of relaxation. Among these was "Mutiny on the Bounty." After seeing the picture, the President sent a cable to the Foreign Office saying, "Contact the mutineers on the Bounty immediately. Tell them we support their cause and any attack on them will be considered an attack on the U.A.R!"
During the past two years there have been five instances of U.A.R. meddling which particularly disturbed Americans. The first was Egypt's support for the coup d'état which overthrew the Imam of Yemen. What began as modest help to Republican forces against the Royalists ended with full-scale military occupation of the country. Egypt eventually had nearly 40,000 troops in the Yemen. A second instance was the dispatch of U.A.R. arms and technicians in support of Algeria in its border dispute with Morocco-and this at a time when Cuba was also getting into the act.
The third incident was the supply of small arms to the Government of Cyprus during the current civil war on that unfortunate island. While any government has the legal right to sell arms to another government, it seemed that Greek Cypriots had ample quantities of weapons on hand, both for their regular and irregular forces. What reason had the U.A.R. to contribute to an already over-abundant supply except the desire to fan the fires of conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots? And why did Nasser welcome Makarios so warmly to Cairo this summer, unless the U.A.R. is more interested in perpetuating than in calming the Cyprus disorders?
The fourth instance is perhaps the most serious. In February 1964, President Nasser, in a public speech heard throughout the Arab world, called for the ending of British and American base rights in Libya. The response was an immediate public furore in Libya which came dangerously near to ending in the abdication of the King. Once again Egypt was interfering in the affairs of its neighbors, and in a form directly challenging an American interest.
Finally, there is the current Egyptian campaign against the South Arabian Federation and its British sponsors. Here is an area remote from the U.A.R., without visible impact on Egyptian security interests. Whether the Egyptian offensive is a diversionary ploy in the Yemen affair or a more general stirring up of trouble for trouble's sake, it only confirms American opinion that the U.A.R. is always minding someone else's business.
This continuous "keeping the pot boiling" by Egypt causes serious problems for the United States. Not only does it have a number of specific interests in the countries involved, but its policy has been to promote tranquility among Middle Eastern states. We believe that disputes, small in themselves, run the risk of inviting outside interference and so spreading into a major conflict. We do not want to see our friends in Arab countries threatened by Egyptian meddling and we do not intend to have world peace shattered by small-nation disputes.
The second set of American complaints against the U.A.R. is related to the first. Egypt's ability to involve itself in affairs throughout the area is based in part on its military and propaganda strength, and this deflects money from urgently needed economic development. While not massive as modern armies go (about 150,000 men for a population of 28,000,000), Egyptian forces are the biggest and best-equiped in the Arab world. Their weapons and aircraft are by far the most sophisticated. Egyptian secret activities abroad in the form of subsidies, weapon supply and agents are large and continuous. These efforts are supported and extended by propaganda including subsidies to newspapers, writers, conferences, foreign students studying in the U.A.R. and an extensive multilingual radio program.
All this is expensive. It may be argued that all nations incur such expenses; they are accepted in our chaotic modern world as a necessary part of "national security" which costs us all so much. But the point for Egypt is that it cannot afford the role of a dominant or dominating power in the area and at the same time win its internal fight against ignorance, poverty and backwardness. Remarkable improvements have been made in Egyptian life under Nasser's régime, but it is still touch and go as to whether the Egyptian economy can permanently bear the burden. Why does the U.A.R. insist on incurring a high bill for activities abroad when at least some of this money is so desperately needed at home?
A third general cause for American suspicion toward Egypt is the continuing concentration of political power in personal hands. This is what the American means when he speaks of "dictatorship"-not so much a theory of government (as Fascism or Nazism) as a practical situation in which the fate of society and individuals is determined by one man or a small group of men upon whom the citizenry has no form of restraint.
It was to be expected that in the early days of the Revolution Colonel Nasser and his associates should become the de facto center of power in the country. But if a revolution is to be anything more than a coup d'état, it must eventually broaden its base, diffuse its power and build a rule of law. None of these things appears to have happened yet in Egypt. Laws are promulgated by Presidential decree, there is no provision for a "loyal opposition," and expressions of criticism of government policies are only possible within the very narrow limits set by the Government itself. The press is firmly controlled. At times private citizens are under sharp surveillance (as during the 1962 French spy trials) and "guilt by association" plays a large role.
All this does not add up to a police state in the full pattern so familiar in Communist countries. But it does have a profound effect on society, generating an atmosphere of unpredictability and curtailed liberty. In so far as the American sees world issues as involving the principles of freedom and responsibility, he is suspicious of the character of the Egyptian régime and the direction it has thus far been traveling.
This suspicion is related to another American question about the U.A.R., namely its relation to the Communist world. The more extreme statements that Nasser is at least a crypto-Communist and that Egypt is in fact, if not in desire, a Communist satellite can be dismissed as uninformed and wishful thinking. But whatever its intentions, the U.A.R., as Americans see it, has put itself dangerously in fee to the Soviet system. The Egyptian army is equipped from top to toe with Soviet weapons. This makes the nation entirely dependent upon Soviet good will for military spare parts and replacements. In fact, the Soviet monopoly on the Egyptian régime's chief instrument of power-its military establishment-gives the Russians an absolute veto on certain Egyptian policies if they care to use it. Whatever the U.A.R.'s dedication to independence may be, its freedom of action in relation to the Soviets is more sharply limited than it is in relation to the free world.
Added to this is the belief that Soviet and U.A.R. policies in the Middle East too often coincide. A major Soviet objective has been to dispossess the Western powers of influence in the area, thus opening the way for Soviet action. The U.A.R. would appear to serve this through its attack on the British position, foreign bases (which are all Western) and non- revolutionary Arab states with which the West has close relations. Thus, while Egypt does not intend to be a Soviet satellite, its own activities sometimes aid and abet Soviet interests and cause problems for the United States.
Finally, there is Israel. Depending on the knowledge and emotional commitment of the American, his attitude ranges from seeing in Nasser the dragon who will devour Israel as soon as he is strong enough, to the more sober recognition that the U.A.R.'s continued hostility to Israel is the keystone of the Arab attitude which refuses to consider even a remote possibility of peace discussions. This concerns many Americans who are in no sense Israeli protagonists. In so far as the Arab-Israeli dispute is a constant source of tension and conflict, its lack of solution is a constant threat to tranquility, progress and stability in the Middle East. Many Americans want it settled, not because they favor Israel or the Arabs, but because they are thoroughly weary of alarms and excursions which periodically set the world's teeth on edge, If the U.A.R. would exercise its leadership in the Arab world for a gradual rapprochement with Israel, everyone would breathe easier.
Accusation and counter-accusation-how much of it is strictly true? Only a detailed study of each issue would answer this, and then it would be seen that there is confusion as to facts and highly questionable judgments in the interpretation of them. But one thing is clear, when all the mythology has been extracted from the mutual causes for suspicion, a hard core of fact remains. Egypt has sound reasons for mistrusting the United States, and the United States cannot help but mistrust it in return. The crisis in confidence is real, not artificial, and it is the chief factor which must be taken, into account by both countries if they desire to continue reasonably cordial relations to their mutual benefit.
Can confidence be restored? Given the causes for suspicion recounted above, it may be argued that this is impossible; the gulf is too wide and has been deepened over too many years to be bridged now. This is certainly true for the immediate future. Both parties need to understand and admit that the restoration of confidence is a slow business and that no sudden change in foreign policies will bring it about immediately. For one thing, national as well as personal characteristics are hard, to change. Egypt is a revolutionary society and nothing the United States can do will alter that fact. All the problems of dealing with its ebullient and frequently embarrassing activities will continue and must be recognized as part of the given situation. On its part, the United States will not change its character as a leader of the free world with interests that frequently run counter to Egyptian desires. No matter what Egypt thinks or does, America will not place its own and its partners' security in jeopardy by turning a blind eye on any Egyptian activity which causes tumult in the Near East or appears to strengthen the Soviet position.
This is to say that both countries will get along better only if each is more realistic about its capabilities of easily and quickly influencing the other's course of action, Americans are prone to think that they can play God in Near Eastern (and other) affairs, shoring up or bringing down régimes, or by threats and economic pressure forcing the U.A.R. Government to take actions which it judges to be against its basic national interests. And Egyptians equally exaggerate their limited ability to put pressure on the United States through propaganda, appeals to revolutionary groups in other countries, or agitation against American positions such as Wheelus Air Base and the petroleum interests at the head of the Persian Gulf. Each country can damage the other, but neither can force a basic change in policy unless it is prepared to resort to overt action-and in this the United States is in the stronger position.
If this fact is accepted, it means that differences and clashes of interest between the United States and Egypt will continue for some time. The problem is not to wipe these out (which is impossible) but to curtail and contain their power to threaten a reasonable relationship between the two countries. For this both sides must be prepared to take some positive steps. For the Egyptians, there must be a greater appreciation that the public image they create in the American mind largely determines what it is possible for the U.S. Government to do. The United States is a democracy, which Egyptians do not fully understand. Neither the Secretary of State nor the President can sustain a policy toward Egypt (even when it is in the best interests of the United States) without some Egyptian help in creating a climate of favorable public opinion. When this climate is unfavorable, it is not because (as alleged by Egyptians) the American press is controlled by pro-Israeli interests or American Senators who are captives of the Jewish vote. It is because of what the Egyptians themselves do. They can now do several things which will help their position.
One is to display more dedication to carrying out their word. Failure to make even token troop withdrawals under the Yemen disengagement agreement has seriously shaken American faith in President Nasser's bona fides. Actions taken against foreign companies in Egypt despite earlier agreements and promises have the same effect. In general, Egypt must work to correct the impression of undependability which its actions have generated.
Egypt can also affect the American attitude by emphasizing accomplishments rather than propaganda as its implement of influence in the Arab world. The sound development of the Valley of the Nile economy with resulting success in raising living standards will do much more to win Egypt a good reputation in the Middle East and abroad than strident and vicious radio broadcasts. The real measure of the Egyptian Revolution's place in history will not be the extent to which it can outdo other Arabs in invective, but the degree to which it can stand upon its actual accomplishments of a better society. The Egyptian image as a responsible Arab world power has been badly damaged by its unceasing and raucous broadcasts.
Again the American attitude will be affected by the efficiency with which the Egyptian social and economic plans are carried forward. Great changes for good have taken place in Egypt, but great wastage of human and economic resources has also taken place in the process. American economic assistance has been large; but it is difficult to make the case for its continuance unless the Egyptian developmental process is tightened and foreign adventures curtailed in the interest of internal development. Economic conditions in Egypt are not as bad as many foreign observers would like to believe, but they are considerably worse than the Egyptian official admits. If the American is to be induced to continue helping in the remaking of the Egyptian system, he must be given more confidence in the process.
Then there is the difficult matter of Israel, which creates a continuing and most exacerbating strain in U.A.R.-U.S. relations. Americans cannot expect Egypt to change its basic attitudes on this, any more than France can expect the United States to change its attitude toward Red China. But there are several things Egypt can do to ease the situation and thus create confidence in America, particularly in non-Zionist circles. One is to let its actions speak rather than its words. The Egyptian policy toward Israel over the past few years has, in fact, been encouragingly moderate. Nasser's public eschewal of aggressive military action as an answer to the current Israeli utilization of Jordan waters is a case in point. The trouble is that Presidential speeches often outrun Presidential policies. The Israel dispute is unnecessarily dragged in on every occasion and vague verbal attacks on Israel are taken at their face value in Congress and by the American public.
Even more important would be some steps by the U.A.R. toward alleviating the arms race with Israel. It is the American conviction that this can be done without imperiling the basic security of the United Arab Republic. Acceptance of international safeguards in the development of atomic power and some willingness to consider means by which the arms level can be frozen at its present position would create a very favorable world reaction. Even if Israel did not respond, or respond fully, Egyptian leadership in this would go far to encourage the great mass of Americans both in and out of government who want only to see peace in the Middle East.
But the task of creating confidence is not Egypt's alone; the United States must also be prepared to make some changes. The first is a greater consistency of approach. American foreign policy toward Egypt has been so erratic largely because Americans-like Egyptians-react rather than act. They do not recognize that it is possible for two countries to oppose each other on specific issues while maintaining a continuing and mutually profitable relation. It is too often an "all or nothing" policy. Either American wheat buys Egyptian compliance to an American viewpoint, or there will be no American wheat. This assumes that the object of American aid is to "bring Egypt to heel," and that when this fails the only alternative is pressure totally to stop the aid program. This seldom works, and particularly it does not work with President Nasser. If the United States desires to protect such national interests as involve the U.A.R., it must be prepared steadily and quietly to pursue a policy that does not fluctuate like the stock market with every political crisis. American policy must be aimed at maintaining a relationship with Egypt, not on seeking pretexts to sever it.
This means that the United States must be more clear-sighted in defining for itself and the U.A.R. what its vital interests are. There is a confusion in the American mind-even among policy-makers-between American interests and what Americans consider desirable. The latter is as broad as the moral values of the particular observer and includes a free press, the parliamentary system, private enterprise-or even the whole gamut of the American political system. Desirable as these may be to the American, they are not per se American interests, involving the essentials of national security. It is these latter which are the central concern of foreign policy and the American approach to the U.A.R. must be made consistent with them.
It is as difficult for the United States to decrease suspicions generated by its policy toward Israel as it is for the U.A.R. in the same situation. But the attempt must be made if American interests in the Arab world are not to suffer needlessly. The United States-like the U.A.R.-has certain commitments in the Arab-Israeli situation from which it will not retreat. These include recognition of Israel as a sovereign and continuing member of the international community of nations and support for and collaboration with the United Nations in dealing with questions arising from the Arab- Israeli dispute.
Arabs need to understand and respect these commitments, as Americans must do. It needs to be made clear both in Congress and in sections of the general public that the American commitment to Israel is limited. Our commitments are not based on the assumption that in every and all circumstances we will come to Israel's aid. Nor is Israel (or any other Middle East state) the chosen instrument of the United States in its policy toward the area. The basic consideration must always be what serves American interests in the Middle East. And this must be so regardless of its effect in helping or hurting either Israel or the U.A.R.
This principle is understood in policy-making circles in Washington and, in general, action accords with it. The difficulty lies in the sensitive domestic political situation. Often it is felt that Israel and her protagonists must be placated by public statements, even though these do not herald a shift in American policy. It is too much to expect that all politicians will resist the temptation to drag Israel into their election campaigns as a vote-catching device, but at least responsible government spokesmen can take more care as to the place and content of their speeches. It was unfortunate that President Johnson's first policy statement on the Middle East was made before an organization identified with Israel, just as it would have been equally unfortunate if it had been made to a pro-Arab group. It would also help if American policy decisions involving Israel could be kept out of election campaigns, thus underscoring their character as considered moves based upon American national interest and not merely election gestures.
Difficult tasks are evidently involved for both parties. Many will say, "Why bother to attempt them, when the differences between the two countries are so continuous and exasperating?" The answer is that both Egypt and the United States need each other; their realistic national interests demand reasonably cooperative relations. This is why, despite the strains and vagaries of policy during the past decade, there has never been an irrevocable rupture. In each period of bad relations, as the point of no return approached, both parties paused, took a new tack and tried to repair the breach. In the aftermath of the Soviet arms deal the United States did not succeed in isolating Egypt and possibly bringing about its downfall; and Egypt, despite strenuous efforts during the same period, did not permanently hurt American interests in the Arab world. Both found their capabilities more limited than they thought and their mutual interests more powerful than they had admitted. They therefore gradually returned to a policy of fostering better relations.
It is these mutual interests which form the basis of an enduring relation between the two countries. Despite suspicions, clashes and differences in policy, the United States and the United Arab Republic have concerns in common on which a reasonable cooperation can be built. Egypt wants to develop in independence, without becoming either a Western or a Soviet satellite. Similarly the United States, now increasingly recognizing the inevitability (and often the utility) of the non-aligned position of many nations, is concerned to see Egypt independent. Egypt wants a better and more stable social system, with a rise in living standards for the masses of the Nile Valley. Here again American and Egyptian interests coincide; a stable Egypt is very much desired by the United States, for a major catastrophe there would have repercussions throughout the entire Arab world. To improve its economic situation, Egypt needs continuing ties with the West; even if the Soviet connection were to be increased vastly, the Soviet bloc cannot do what needs to be done for the Egyptian economy. And all of Egypt's foreign cultural, intellectual and technical traditions are of the Western world. With them the Egyptian feels at home. To make this Western connection secure in both its economic and cultural aspects, Egypt needs good relations with the United States.
So long as the United States has vital interests in Arab lands and the United Arab Republic has a role of influence and leadership, the two countries cannot escape doing business with each other. The question is whether they can be sufficiently mature, clear-sighted and patient to work out gradually a consistent and mutually profitable relationship.