Author: Warren Bass, Senior Fellow, Middle East Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
A CFR Book. Oxford University Press
In his timely, perceptive, and elegantly written book, Senior Fellow Warren Bass offers striking new insights into the origins of today's Middle East. He illuminates three of the most memorable figures of the twentieth century and their diplomatic struggles at the height of the Cold War: David Ben-Gurion, Israel's indomitable founding father; Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the charismatic Arab nationalist; and the young and dynamic John F. Kennedy.
The Kennedy period, Bass writes, was no "mere place-marker between Suez and the Six Day War, between the martial frostiness of Dwight Eisenhower and the Texan warmth of Lyndon Johnson." He shows how Kennedy sought greater influence in the Arab world, offering more foreign aid and a new diplomatic overture to Nasser, the Arab world's leading radical.
Bass's analysis traces the political maneuvering that brought U.S.-Israel relations to their current warmth. Initially, Kennedy and Nasser engaged in a rich personal correspondence. But when Nasser intervened in Yemen's civil war, Kennedy countered by deploying fighter jets to Saudi Arabia as a warning to Egypt. Meanwhile, Kennedy made the first major U.S. arms sale to Israel—a crucial policy shift that marked the beginning of America's alliance with the Jewish state. The support came with a caveat, however: Kennedy insisted that Israel open its nuclear weapons program to U.S. inspectors, a demand that led to a grave confrontation. Drawing on meticulous research, Bass paints a fresh portrait of a presidency critical to the foundation of the Middle East as we now know it.
"Warren Bass has written a first-rate book. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the roots of America's current ties to Israel and dilemmas in trying to resolve the tensions that plague the Middle East. General readers as well as specialists will enjoy and profit from this important study."
—Robert Dallek, author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
"Warren Bass is a wonderful writer with an eye for the telling quotation and perfect anecdote. The years he covers in this intelligent, engaging book are important and unexplored. His conclusions are clarifying and useful as we look at the Middle East today. All in all, this is a work of history that scholars, students, and citizens will greatly enjoy."
—Fareed Zakaria, Editor, Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy At Home and Abroad
"Warren Bass delivers a gripping account of how a chilly U.S.-Israeli relationship was transformed during the Kennedy presidency into today's full-blown alliance. Bass illuminates Kennedy's chess-like efforts to adequately arm the Israelis and maintain rapport with the Arabs, while keeping the Soviets out, the Suez Canal open, and the oil flowing. Kennedy masterfully managed the potential Middle East crises of his time. Only Israel among the regional players made the most of what America offered. Bass' elegantly written analysis is filled with insights that make this an important and exciting work of history."
—James Hoge, Editor of Foreign Affairs
"Warren Bass's history of the Kennedy administration's policies in the Middle East is elegantly written, perceptive, and timely. His analysis of a crucial moment in the region's history, and of America's relationship to it, will be of value to anyone wishing to understand many of our current dilemmas."
—Alan Brinkley, Professor of History at Columbia University and author of Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression
Read the Foreign Affairs review by Lawrence D. Freedman.
Warren Bass wrote this book as a senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy and Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, The Jerusalem Report, and Slate. He is a former associate editor of Foreign Affairs. He currently serves on the professional staff of the 9/11 Commission.