In This Review

Syria and the United States: Eisenhower's Cold War in the Middle East
Syria and the United States: Eisenhower's Cold War in the Middle East
By David W. Lesch
Westview, 1992, 242 pp

Revisionism concerning Eisenhower's presidency has been based largely on the evidence that the president was much more in charge of policy than many had thought at the time and that he showed remarkably good judgment in not entangling the United States in costly overseas adventures. As a result, the 1950s were years of peace and prosperity for many Americans. But the record looks a bit different, as Lesch shows, through the lens of American Middle East policy during this period. The episode selected for analysis in this "re-revisionist" history is the Syrian crisis of 1957. Until recently, the American role in this affair was treated as a deep secret. Now it is clear that the United States was drawn into a plan to destabilize the Syrian government, in league with Britain, Iraq, and Turkey, during 1955-56. The Syrians managed to disrupt the plan in August 1957, by which time Iraq had pulled back, and the whole affair looked quite amateurish. Lesch believes that the misguided pressure on the leftist, but not communist, Syrian regime in this period had the counterproductive result of driving the Syrians into the arms of the Soviets and later toward unity with Egypt. Eisenhower and Dulles were unable to make much of a distinction between radical nationalists and communists, and by failing to do so they adopted policies whose results were the opposite of those they hoped for. This is a well-done case study, which does not quite succeed in lifting the veil on all the mysteries of what Washington was trying to do to Syria in 1957, but comes closer than any previous account. And it helps to explain why Syrians have long been suspicious of American policy toward their country.