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COLD WAR: 1953-60 (8 of 11)

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Nasser and the Middle East

The Hungarian uprising was crushed while Israeli, French and British troops were moving against Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt – four months after Nasser had announced that he was nationalizing the Suez Canal.

Nationalization of the canal and the invasion had come after the US had put conditions on an arms deal with Nasser that Nasser could not accept. The conditions were that the weapons would be used only for defensive purposes and be accompanied by US military personnel for supervision and training. Nasser, instead, had made an arms deal with the Soviet Union. The British cited the arms deal with the Soviet Union as reason for withdrawing financial support for Nasser's project, the building of the Aswan Dam.

US Secretary of State Dulles disliked neutralism, and Nasser had declared himself as neutral in the cold war. Nasser had angered Dulles by his having recognized China. Eisenhower was opposed to the 1956 British, French and Israeli invasion of Egypt fearing that it would create an outrage among anti-colonialists and maybe stir up guerrilla warfare. Without US support and with the United Nations criticizing their action, the British, French and Israelis halted their advance on 26 November 1956, less than 48 hours after it had begun.

Nasser had been opposed to the Baghdad Pact, a pro-Western alliance created in 1955 that included Britain, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran of Shah Pahlavi. He associated it with Western imperialism. The US was not a member, but Secretary of State Dulles had helped organize it and was allied with Turkey and Pakistan from which it could fly aircraft into the Soviet Union.

On January 5, 1957, with Nasser and the danger of communism on his mind, Eisenhower asked Congress to create what was to become known as the Eisenhower Doctrine. With this, a country in the Middle East could request US economic assistance or aid if it were being threatened by armed aggression from another state. The doctrine's purpose was described as "to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by international communism."

Nasser was interested in political unification of Islamic peoples of North Africa and the Middle East and was supporting the revolt by Algerians against French rule. In early 1957 he told Syria's President Shukri al-Quwatli and Prime Minister Khaled al-Azem, both Ba'ath Party members, that they needed to rid their government of communists. Ba'athists were pan-Arab nationalists and socialists and in conflict ideologically with communists. Nasser was told by the Syrians that union with Egypt would end the communist threat. Nasser agreed to a merger. It was ratified by plebiscites and became known as the United Arab Republic, established on February 1958 with Nasser as president.

In July 1958 pro-Nasser army officers performed a coup that left Iraqi royalty dead and brought an end to a pro-Western regime there. They pulled their nation out of the Baghdad Pact and ended Iraq's treaty with Jordan, where trouble was brewing for another monarchy. The CIA warned the British, who had an interest there. The British sent a paratrooper brigade to protect Jordan's King Hussein, and the Eisenhower examined its options, but with Iraq's royal family already dead and no one in Iraq to collaborate with, no grounds for intervening Iraq could be found.

Lebanon, meanwhile, was having a civil war. It was divided between Muslims and Christians, with Nasser a hero to many of its Muslims. Lebanon's president, Camille Chamoun, was a Christian who was holding on to power as a result of a rigged election. The US Information Agency library was burned and an oil pipeline was cut, and Chamoun appealed to the United States for help. The Pentagon urged the sending of a UN force rather than a US force, but this was overruled by Dulles, who believed that Moscow was fomenting the trouble in Lebanon. The Eisenhower administration sent its Sixth Fleet to Lebanon and on July 15, 1958, US Marines landed. Lebanon's airport was secured. No fighting involving Americans broke out. A couple of Marines made a wrong turn and drove into Muslim territory. They were disarmed and asked why they were in Lebanon, and the Marines said they did not know. The Marines were given a lecture on imperialism and then allowed to return from whence they had come.

On July 31, Lebanon's parliament elected General Faud Shehab as president to succeed Chamoun, and Shehab selected a Muslim, Rashid Karami, as his prime minister. Karami's cabinet had an equal number of Christians and Muslims. Karami pursued rebuilding and pacification, and, in October, US forces withdrew.


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