29. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and Member of the Senior Interdepartmental Group (Battle) to the Under Secretary of State and Chairman of the Senior Interdepartmental Group (Katzenbach)1


  • Paper on “U.S. Policy in the Middle East”2

IRG/NEA 68-29

As requested by you at the 26th SIG meeting, IRG/NEA has prepared a new paper on U.S. Policy in the Middle East. This paper, which I attach for your consideration, takes off from last year’s Holmes Study3 and, taking into account subsequent analyses of indigenous trends and certain other factors as well as developments during the past year, lays out a comprehensive U.S. strategy for the next five years or so.

You will note differences between the attached paper and the Holmes Study in geographic scope and in format. After careful consideration, it was decided to concentrate in the revised paper on the Middle East and to touch on North Africa and the Horn of Africa only marginally insofar as they affect our consideration of Middle East policy. Conceptual advantages in a comprehensive treatment including the latter two regions were recognized, but in practice we found it confusing and unhelpful to deal in any detail in one paper with all of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn. Therefore we concentrated on the Middle East. (AF concurs in this method of treatment.)

In approaching the problem, the attached paper undertakes to set out broad policy considerations and principles to guide us in dealing with the Middle East over the next several years. It does not try to spell out in detail the specific operational means by which those policy principles can or should be executed. This approach makes for a less forceful impression than that conveyed by the Holmes Study, which dealt much more directly in the how of achieving our objectives by offering a large number of current action recommendations. Recognizing that the policy principles remain to be fleshed out, I consider the approach in the attached paper preferable as a basic guide to U.S. policymakers for a five-year period.

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The essence of the policy set forth in the attached paper is that the United States will continue to be active in the Middle East because our interests require it. We recognize the critical importance of the Middle East especially to Western Europe and hence to our global position. We recognize that we will have a continuing competition with the Soviet Union for influence in the area. In these respects the attached paper and the Holmes Study are in substantial agreement.

The principal substantive differences between the two papers revolve around the treatment of the indigenous climate for Soviet penetration and the estimate of Soviet capabilities in the Middle East. The Holmes Study saw the issue basically as a cold-war clash and was more activist in approach, focusing on a direct US/NATO response. The attached paper gives greater weight to factors which temper the prospects for an aggressive policy by the Soviets including (a) other demands on their resources, (b) their own dilemmas in policy choices, and (c) the indigenous forces of nationalism and modernization, which act as barriers to Soviet dominance in the area. Although in its principal policy guidelines the attached paper is basically similar to the Holmes Study, it is less urgent in tone and less demanding in this call for U.S. involvement. It would concentrate on the political aspects of our competition with the Soviets, and build on strengthening the local forces of independence while maintaining the overall U.S.-USSR military balance. I believe the flexible approach advocated in the attached paper is the more realistic.

In considering the attached paper we are painfully aware of the problems we face in protecting and promoting our interests in the Middle East. I have been most concerned that our overall policy approach be designed to meet the threat, the need and the realities of the situation in the area. I have been insistent that we not back away from advocating a policy that will certainly lay important claims on our resources, merely out of some pessimistic forecast as to the availability of such resources in the years immediately ahead. We do live in, and must plan for, a real world. But if the issues are important to us, as we are convinced they are, we should not avoid facing up to the priorities in allocating resources that they may entail.

We have also been struck, in considering this paper, by the need for further, more detailed planning in anticipation of certain contingencies foreseen in it. These include possible changes in the regimes in the UAR and Jordan, as well as the possibility of a resumption of Arab-Israel hostilities and the related possibility of some type of U.S.-USSR military confrontation. The IRG plans to pursue its study of these contingencies in the near future.

Finally, I must express our debt to Ambassador Julius Holmes in formulating a policy for the Middle East. The importance of his personal [Page 76] leadership in the policy study done last year is reflected in the fact that his name was, by common understanding, given to that study. We have been stimulated by the clear statement of issues and have benefited greatly from both the analysis and strategy offered in the Holmes Study. I deeply regret that Ambassador Holmes will not be on hand to help us further in regard to the attached paper, which already owes so much to him.

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA/IRG Files, 68-29: Lot 70 D 503, U.S. Policy in the Middle East, Final Draft. Secret. Drafted by Staff Director for the Interdepartmental Regional Group Sidney Sober and cleared by Director of the Office of Inter-African Affairs Fred L. Hadsel.
  2. Document 30.
  3. Document 22.