15. Editorial Note

On December 9, 1969, Secretary of State William Rogers delivered a major speech titled “A Lasting Peace in the Middle East: An American View” at the 1969 Galaxy Conference on Adult Education in Washington. During this talk, Rogers stated that one of the first decisions of the new administration had been to play a direct role in solving the Arab-Israeli crisis. This included U.S. discussions not just with the United Nations, U.S. allies, and regional states, but with the Soviet Union as well. These talks brought “a measure of understanding,” but had highlighted the main roadblocks to useful regional negotiations. In his concluding statements Rogers reiterated the need for a balanced U.S. policy, for good diplomatic relations with all nations in the region, and for U.S. commitment to achieve a just and lasting peace. (Department of State Bulletin, January 5, 1970, pages 7–11)

Commenting on his draft of the speech, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph J. Sisco wrote that he had constructed the section of the speech on Soviet involvement “with great care”:

“My concern is that there is a general feeling in the Arab world that our preoccupation with Vietnam and the atmosphere which exists in this country preclude a positive United States role in the area. There is, of course, a good deal of truth to this, and our efforts in trying to achieve a settlement are aimed at preventing a situation from developing which could confront us with the most critical decision of intervening or not intervening militarily. I recognize also that words are two-edged: by saying too much we can stimulate undue expectations about American power in the area, and by saying too little we can contribute to the tendency to write us off.”

In his comments, Sisco wrote that he had tried to convey the point in his draft that “our preoccupation elsewhere does not mean that we are going to let this area go by default.” He concluded:

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“I am personally convinced that, if the rubric ‘no more Vietnams’ leads the world to believe the United States will close its eyes wherever aggression occurs, then we are in serious trouble all over the world, and in particular, in the Middle East. I believe the Middle East will be over the next five years the principal testing point between ourselves and the Soviet Union. The Soviet probes and brinkmanship will go as far as they think they can, short of direct confrontation with us, which I believe they wish to avoid as much as we do. I realize that the strategy being pursued by the Soviets is primarily political, not military, but I am convinced that our strategy in order to be effective politically must have sufficient teeth militarily to make it credible. It must also have political credibility, however, and this will inevitably require some degree of confrontation between ourselves and the Israelis.” (Memorandum from Sisco to Rogers and Johnson, November 19; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 1 NEAR E–US)