Excerpt from More than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East


The following is an excerpt from More than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East (May 2018) by Randall Fowler.

From Eisenhower, Containment and the Middle East

Like much of American foreign policy in the early Cold War, the words, actions, and rhetorical strategies I examine were an out-growth of the overarching doctrine of “containment” of the Soviet Union and Communist power. The Eisenhower-Dulles team came into office asserting the need for a more robust conception of this strategy. In his famous Life magazine article, Dulles argued that America needed to eschew the passivity of containment for an active policy of “liberation” aimed at rolling back Soviet influence in the satellite states. While significantly more restrained in his rhetoric, in his first inaugural address Eisenhower also gave voice to the global need for universal liberty: “Conceiving the defense of freedom, like freedom itself, to be one and indivisible, we hold all continents and peoples in equal regard and honor. We reject any insinuation that one race or another, one people or another, is in any sense inferior or expendable.” America, as the exemplar of such freedom, had a special role to play in defending it from Soviet totalitarianism. Under Ike the containment doctrine sanctioned halting any perceived Communist expansion through the aggressive use of military and covert means.

The complex way in which this doctrine was applied and expressed to the public can be seen most clearly in the Eisenhower administration’s treatment of the Middle East. The Eisenhower Doctrine speech, perhaps the clearest articulation of containment in the entire Eisenhower presidency, set forth the logic of containment in a way that was easily accessible to the American public. It also won congressional approval for a robust policy of intervention, and its subject matter was not Eastern Europe, Korea, or Southeast Asia, but the Middle East. This fact has profound ramifications, as the Eisenhower Doctrine speech fundamentally altered the way in which the region is conceived in presidential rhetoric and American political discourse more generally.

In brief I wish to demonstrate the following claims: The foreign- policy rhetoric of the early Cold War and Eisenhower’s first years in office positioned the Middle East as a region that was import- ant to the West but not a direct American concern. Eisenhower’s rhetoric of misdirection, most clearly demonstrated in the Iran coup, worked to conceal the growing level of authority that the United States was assuming in the region as its power displaced that of the British and the French. The Eisenhower administration maintained this approach to the Middle East over the course of Ike’s first term by deploying strategies of rhetorical surreption, through which American interests were secured by covert means without publicly challenging the regional status quo. When Britain and France, in coordination with Israel, initiated the Suez crisis, Eisenhower broke from this rhetorical strategy and chose instead to make a case for the United States’ unique responsibility to maintain peace in the region. Enacting this principle Ike then proclaimed what quickly became known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, an open-ended American commitment to active interventionism in the Middle East to prevent Communism from taking root. In 1958 Ike chose to apply the Eisenhower Doctrine and intervene in Lebanon. Although observer groups in Lebanon found no evidence of Communist instigation of the conflict, Eisenhower characterized the turmoil in Lebanon as Soviet-inspired and declared that the United States had a moral duty to protect the Lebanese through occupation. By announcing an American obligation for Middle East security and backing up this claim with several thousand marines, Eisenhower established an American rhetoric of responsibility for the region that has not been repudiated by any subsequent president. Since Eisenhower the United States, not Europe, has become the regional hegemon at which the buck stops.

The central focus of my analysis concerns the Eisenhower Doc- trine speech, which constituted a major shift in presidential rhetoric regarding the Middle East. The transcript of the address has been reprinted in full between the introduction and the next chapter. However, limiting my analysis only to this obvious and eminently rhetorical situation would not effectively contextualize Eisenhower’s rhetorical redefinition of the relationship between the United States and the Middle East. Thus the scope of this book includes the buildup to the Eisenhower Doctrine address and a rhetorical analysis of the doctrine’s application in Lebanon so as to better demonstrate the evolution of Ike’s rhetoric throughout his presidency.

I believe alongside Jeff Bass that, like metaphors, themes, identity construction, or other schemata by which presidential rhetoric can be analyzed, the official “interpretations” of certain regions of the world, which guide “the relationship between such regions and the . . . United States,” are worthy of scholarly study. That is, I hold that a sustained examination of presidential rhetoric on a specific subject, in this case America’s relationship to the region known as the Middle East during the mid-1950s, will yield academic insight. By expanding my analytical frame beyond the Eisenhower Doctrine address itself, I hope to facilitate a more comprehensive view of the shift in presidential rhetoric concerning the Middle East that occurred under Ike, the effects of which we are still living with today.

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