124. Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, July 14, 1958, 10:50 a.m.1

OTHERS PRESENT

  • The Vice President
  • Secretary Dulles
  • Assistant Secretary Macomber
  • Assistant Secretary Gerard Smith
  • Mr. Rockwell
  • Mr. Berry
  • General Persons
  • General Cutler
  • Mr. Gordon Gray
  • Secretary Anderson
  • Mr. Allen Dulles
  • Secretary Quarles
  • General Twining
  • Assistant Secretary Sprague
  • General Goodpaster

Mr. Allen Dulles opened with a summary on the situation in Iraq. According to reports received thus far (mostly from the rebel-seized Baghdad radio), the Crown Prince has been killed, and perhaps Nuri[Page 212]also. The King’s situation is unknown. A Leftist government has taken over. Secretary Dulles commented that there has been no report regarding Iraqi forces outside of Baghdad. Allen Dulles continued that Hussein’s situation is extremely critical in Jordan. Hussein has assumed power as head of the Arab Union and supreme commander of the Arab Union armed forces. The Israelis will be extremely alarmed; they are likely to take over Transjordan if disorder occurs in Jordan. Chamoun has asked for U.S. intervention within forty-eight hours, and has indicated he has already asked for U.K. intervention and will ask for French. The fate of Kuwait is presently in the balance. Two messages have come from Saudi-Arabia.2 King Saud demands action at once, stating that if the United States and United Kingdom do not act now they are finished as powers in the Mid-East.

The President commented that this is probably our last chance to do something in the area. While this rebellion continues, we still have a basis for going in, but once it succeeds the situation will be different. He did not think we could ignore the situation, but that we must move.

Secretary Dulles then gave a political analysis. The situation must be judged in a most serious way, going back to what is fundamental— what will the Russians do. If we go in we must expect very threatening gestures, particularly affecting Turkey and Iran. What the Russians will do depends upon what they judge to be the balance of power for a general war. We are better off now, according to General Twining, than three or four years from now. At the present time the Soviets do not have long-range missiles, at least in any quantity. Nor do they have a substantial long-range air capability. If we do not accept the risk now, they will probably decide that we will never accept risk and will push harder than ever, and border countries will submit to them. If we do not respond to the call from Chamoun, we will suffer the decline and indeed the elimination of our influence—from Indonesia to Morocco. Pakistan may stand with us because of India; Iran would gradually go down; Turkey would probably stand firm but with increasing anxieties. In Africa Nasser is already making gains in Sudan; Libya is in the balance; and Tunis and Morocco are already unfriendly.

If, on the other hand, we do respond to the request, we must expect a very bad reaction through most of the Arab countries—a cutting off of the pipeline, stoppage of transit through the Suez, and hostile activity throughout the area. The British will have to move into Kuwait. Saud seems to want us to move in, but it is questionable if we can control the situation in his country. It must be noted that there is [Page 213]an appreciable chance that Nasser may have overplayed his hand and that if we are firm, he may withdraw from what he is doing if the Soviets do not come in.

If we were to move in we would have to take simultaneous moves in the United Nations and in other international forums. The difficulty is that we do not have hard evidence in this case as in the case of Lebanon. It must be noted that a meeting of the Baghdad Pact powers at Istanbul has been called off, with the representatives other than Iraq going on to meet in Ankara. There is good chance that, whatever we do, the Turks will move.

On balance, the Secretary was inclined to feel that the losses from doing nothing would be worse than the losses from action—and that consequently we should send our troops into Lebanon. Regarding Iraq, he was not certain as to what we should do. This is primarily a UK responsibility. He made the further point that if we do not act quickly, we are unlikely to act at all—if we don’t act today, we never will and the situation will be lost to us. In this connection, the world expects that, if we have a strong case we will act promptly, rather than delay. In his opinion, by acting we make general war less likely than if we don’t, because in the latter case we will lose our allies. What we must decide upon is the lesser of two great evils. We thought we had a third way out in Lebanon but with the events in Iraq, that is no longer available to us.

The President said it was clear in his mind that we must act, or get out of the Middle East entirely. He thought that the action of Hussein makes it easier for the UK to intervene. What concerns him more than the Russian question is the temper or the attitudes of the people throughout the area. He cannot foresee a way of bringing the matter to a settlement.

Secretary Anderson asked what Israel would do if we were to move into Jordan and Iraq. Mr. Dulles thought that, if we go in, Israel will probably stay out. In Saudi Arabia, Secretary Anderson commented that the power rests with the tribes which are loyal to the King.

The Vice President anticipated that we will undergo an adverse reaction around the world in this case, as we gained a favorable reaction at Suez. Mr. Dulles felt that the world will divide on this question, not on intellectual grounds but according to instinctive lines. Western Europe will support us, although the Scandinavians will be reserved. Most of the Latin American countries will probably do so, given persuasion. Most of Asia will be against us, including India, Ceylon and probably Burma and most of Africa wherever it is vocal will also. In many areas the leaders will privately applaud.

[Page 214]

Mr. Quarles said that in the Defense Department, all is in readiness to move. It is unfortunate we do not have a better international aura to move under, especially in the United Nations. He recommended placing greater emphasis on the UN aspect—getting as much of a UN umbrella as we can. He did feel, though, that if we are going to act we should act at once and not wait in hopes of the UN finding a solution to the problem.

Secretary Dulles said he thought it was clear that we should act immediately to call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

General Twining said that the plans and preparations we have made are enough to protect American lives and property. Two battalions of Marines and two Army battle groups from Germany are ready to go. When these go into Lebanon, we would load up two divisions in the United States.

General Persons asked as to whether the President would make a decision without holding a bipartisan meeting. The President said he would not but that he would like to have the bipartisan leaders down right away. He would simply tell them that we cannot subject ourselves to the blackmail Nasser would be able to enforce should Lebanon and Iraq follow. Mr. Macomber said we would not find much enthusiasm among the Democratic Congressional leaders. The Vice President suggested that, while this had been true concerning intervention in Lebanon prior to the Iraq coup, it is likely that it is not so true today. Mr. Macomber acknowledged this. Secretary Anderson asked whether we could go into Lebanon without giving some assurance to Jordan, since Faisal was so close to Hussein. Mr. Dulles said it is preferable for us to go to Lebanon, and for the UK to go into Iraq and Kuwait. The Vice President said the major point to consider is whether this action will succeed, and how long the situation will continue. Secretary Dulles said this is a situation where it will be easy to get ourselves involved, and very hard to get out. However, there exists in Lebanon a very strong community having an interest in stability, commerce and ties with the West. The Vice President asked what public reason will be given for our intervention, and Mr. Dulles said it would be to protect American lives and property at the request of Lebanon. The President added as a further reason, because of the increasing danger to the West from these developments.

The Vice President said these may be mob violence against American embassies and Americans throughout the whole Middle East. In a way this is our greatest risk—as to what the mobs will do.

The President said that the situation is clear to him—to lose this area by inaction would be far worse than the loss in China, because of the strategic position and resources of the Middle East. In further discussion the President commented that the most strategic move would be to attack Cairo in the present circumstances, but of course [Page 215]this cannot be done. Mr. Dulles commented many will say we are simply doing what we stopped the British and the French from doing at the time of the Suez crisis. Although there are differences, they will be hard to put across.

The Vice President raised again the matter of consulting Congress. He strongly advised that this be done and that the President chair the meeting. Mr. Dulles commented that we should bring out that we can never foresee what will happen beyond the initial line of action, but that action is required. The Vice President said we should not assume that the Democratic members of Congress will oppose the President’s action, at least at this time. Some may. Others will probably be silent, so that they can later oppose it if they think it helpful to them to do so.3

G
Brigadier General USA
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries. Top Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster. Another memorandum of this conversation was prepared by Rockwell. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/7–1458) Presidential Assistant Robert Cutler also prepared extensive notes on the meeting. (Ibid.) Both are included in the microfiche supplement.
  2. See footnote 3, supra .
  3. After the meeting, Rockwell drafted and sent a brief telegram to Beirut in which he indicated that telegram 358 from Beirut had been considered that morning in a meeting with the President, and that, barring strong opposition from the Congressional leadership, the response to Chamoun’s request very likely would be affirmative. (Telegram 189 to Beirut, July 14; Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/7–1458)