Support Any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance
By Warren Bass
Oxford University Press, 2003, 360 pp.
Death of a Generation: How the Assasinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War
By Howard Jones
Oxford University Press, 2003, 592 pp.
Bass addresses a vital transitional period in Washington's Middle East policy. After President Eisenhower's record of astoundingly poor relations with the nationalist Arabs and Israel, President Kennedy sought to strengthen ties with both. The most original part of Bass' book is its account of Kennedy's uneasy courtship of Egypt's Nasser, an attempt to wean him away from the Soviet bloc and soften his uncompromising attitude toward Israel. Some headway was made before Nasser's involvement in Yemen made further progress impossible. The Israeli side of the story is better known. The impact of the 1962 sale of Hawk air defenses to Israel and the concern generated by the Israeli nuclear plant at Dimona have been documented before, but Bass' analysis is well researched, deft, and sensible -- for example, in avoiding exaggeration of the influence of the Jewish lobby. His assessment fits with the more positive image of Kennedy's policymaking that has emerged from recent accounts. Jones' book on Vietnam complements this picture. It is a major piece of scholarship -- of clear value to specialists but possibly a bit dense for the general reader. The account of the events leading up to the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem is particularly good, and the assessment of its dire effect on the nature of the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam, convincing. Jones is no closer than anyone else to providing a definitive answer to the question of what would have happened had Kennedy lived, but he correctly stresses the extent to which President Johnson was less inclined to disengage.