30. Memorandum of Conference With President Eisenhower0


  • Secretary Dulles
  • Mr. Allen Dulles
  • Mr. Rountree
  • Mr. Reinhardt
  • Secretary Quarles
  • General Twining
  • General Goodpaster

Secretary Dulles said we must regard Arab nationalism as a flood which is running strongly. We cannot successfully oppose it, but we can put up sand bags around positions we must protect—the first group being Israel and Lebanon and the second being the oil positions around the Persian Gulf. The Soviets are seeking to incite the floods, and we cannot compete with them because they play to the Arab desire to “drive Israel into the sea” and throw out the West. Israel is a hostage held against us. The President agreed with the point regarding Israel, noting that except for Israel we could form a viable policy in the area. Mr. Dulles added that we are not greatly dependent on the oil positions. Europe is, however. The President asked what would happen to the Middle East if they were unable to sell their oil. Mr. Dulles brought out that there is no shortage of oil elsewhere, but this is a source of cheap oil, and a source of income, in sterling, to the United Kingdom. If the UK could not get oil cheaply in the Middle East, they would be badly hurt.

The President recalled that it was not possible to enforce the prohibition amendment in this country because popular feeling ran so strongly against it. Similarly he felt that a Western position cannot be held against the underlying and often unthinking convictions of the Arab world, because we then have no satisfactory way of dealing with them. In his mind the question is how to take a sympathetic position regarding the Arabs without agreeing to the destruction of Israel. He added, however, that Nkrumah, in his visit,1 told him that Israel is now tacitly accepted by the other countries of the area. If this is true, it may be possible for us to find a way out. If our policy is solely to maintain the Kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia in their positions, the prospect is hopeless, even in the short term.

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Secretary Dulles said we must not overestimate the thesis of Arab nationalism and Arab unity. Nasser, like Hitler before him, has the power to excite emotions and enthusiasm. But there is no real unity as between Egypt and Syria. Recently the Syrians have evidenced that they are tiring of the alliance. The President asked whether this might not be more true of governments than of people. Mr. Dulles said that popular emotion, even though temporary, has reached large proportions in many areas. The majority of the people in Sudan are opposed to Egypt, as is the government, but the Nasser propaganda may incite mobs which would sweep away the government. There is no question in his mind, however, that unity within the Arab world is not a valid, permanent movement. The President said that his effort is to try to get at the underlying Arab thinking. We must either work with it or change it, or do some of both. He recognized that they may act out of violence, emotion and ignorance. Our question is still how to get ourselves to the point where the Arabs will not be hostile to us.

Mr. Rountree pointed out that we have to deal principally with governments. One great problem for us is how to get in touch with the people. There is a strong wave of emotional “Nasser” imperialism sweeping through the area. Support from us is to a degree a kiss of death for Saud and Hussein. The Egyptians have succeeded in getting other regimes to take up the cry of Arab unity even where, as in the case of Syria, it has led to the regime’s downfall. The task is one of leadership in directing the mood and the emotion of the people—who are extremely volatile and excitable.

Mr. Allen Dulles thought we should try to buy time, in which we could see if we could find a way out of our present situation. The President said that, since Nasser came to power, we have seen quite clearly what is involved. We tried to work out a line of action with Saud, but it availed us very little. Secretary Dulles pointed out that it has gained us at least a couple of years in which the area did not go Communist. The President then commented that the United States seems to have become anathema to the region, and that this is a force we will have to reckon with.

Secretary Dulles next took up the draft of a possible answer to Prime Minister Macmillan’s letter requesting that we send troops into Jordan.2 The President asked whether we expect to be able to get a line of communications operating through Aqaba before the end of the week, and Mr. Quarles and General Twining told him that we do, with use of road and railroad between Aqaba and Amman.

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Regarding Jordan, the President said the question in his mind is what kind of outcome we can foresee in the long run if the government is kept in power simply by outside troops. Mr. Dulles recalled that we had not wanted the British to go in. The President saw difficulty in continuing to back Hussein since we do not have as strong a legal basis as we do in Lebanon. Mr. Dulles said that in a sense Jordan lies in the main stream of the flood of which he had spoken. However, we cannot abandon them. Also, we must think of what Israel would do if Jordan goes down. It is clear they would act, and would win initially. The Soviets probably would aid the Arabs, however, and war would widen, with great pressure on the United States to support Israel. He added that the overflights are troubling the Israelis very much, and that they have suggested we bring out that we are taking food and medical supplies to the Jordanian people. Mr. Dulles added that the British may decide not to stay on if we do not send in forces. He said an Israeli had told him that if Jordan falls into chaos the armistice becomes inoperative. While it is not wise to prop up Hussein in a nonviable state, it is clear that Israel would take over much of Jordan in the event of revolt. There was then discussion as to how to get Britain out of Jordan without starting a general war in the area. Mr. Rountree suggested looking to the United Nations, indicating he could not see how to achieve a British withdrawal without a loss of face on their part. The group then edited passages in the proposed message referring to this matter.

In a final comment Secretary Dulles observed that we are laboring under an inherent disadvantage in this area in that we are trying to protect interests of long standing.

Brigadier General, USA
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Staff Memos, July 1958. Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster on July 24.
  2. Prime Minister Nkrumah of Ghana made an official visit to Washington July 23–26.
  3. Dated July 22; for text, see vol. XI, pp. 366–367.