A propos President Obama’s Middle East policy speech yesterday, and the vigorous reaction that it provoked from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, I have recalled an Op-Ed of mine that was published in the International Herald Tribune in November 2002, a few months before the Iraq invasion. I believe it retains striking relevance in today’s situation. It reveals, among other things, how short Washington’s institutional memory can be, especially when it comes to presidential commitments regarding the Palestine-Israel issue. A slightly abbreviated version of that Op-Ed is reproduced below. (It also contains some insights into the personal diplomatic style [and spelling ability] of former president Richard Nixon, which are both revealing and amusing.) Most importantly: We Americans must remember always that other players on the world’s stage often have much longer memories than those who deal with current U.S. policy matters down in Foggy Bottom!
By Raymond Close, International Herald Tribune, 29 November 2002
The Mideast linkage factor
. . . . . . . . . . . The connection between other American regional foreign policy objectives and U.S. dedication to the Arab-Israel peace process has traditionally been referred to as the “linkage factor.”
Valuable lessons in understanding the linkage phenomenon can be drawn from a brief review of events as far back in history as the early 1970s, before, during and after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Starting in late 1972, about 10 months before the outbreak of the 1973 war, the late King Faisal began warning President Richard Nixon that other Arab states, led by Iraq and Libya, were beginning to put heavy pressure on him to join them in utilizing what became known as the “oil weapon” against the United States unless the Nixon administration took a more active interest in resolving the Palestine problem. These warnings from Faisal were earnest, and they were urgent. Washington ignored them. Faisal never gave up. He sent his oil minister, Ahmed Zaki Yamani, and others to Washington several times in the next few months to convey that message to everyone who would listen, inside and outside of government. The warning was ignored in most cases. In other instances the messenger was publicly denounced as a crude practitioner of “blackmail.”
On April 17, 1973, several months before the Yom Kippur War began, I was informed by my official Saudi intelligence counterparts that Anwar Sadat had reached a decision to begin preparing for a major military assault across the Suez Canal, and that he had informed King Faisal of this decision in a letter received that day.
Sadat acknowledged unashamedly in this letter that he did not expect to win a war against Israel, but he explained that only by restoring Arab honor and displaying Arab courage on the battlefield could he hope to capture the attention of Washington and persuade Henry Kissinger to support a peace process.
The letter was read to me with King Faisal’s express permission. In reporting this information, I included news that Prince Saud al Faisal, the king’s son and present foreign minister, was being sent to Washington to convey again his father’s deep concern, made much more urgent by the message from Sadat, that only a vigorous American peace initiative, urgently undertaken, could avert a regional Middle East war that would inevitably include the imposition of an oil embargo.
King Faisal considered including this message again in written form in a personal letter to Nixon, but he then thought better of the idea. He was tired of writing letters to the American president, he explained, recalling that the last time he had done so it had been three months before he received a reply. Prince Saud was therefore instructed to convey the message verbally.
Again, as usual, Washington paid no heed to this admonition from a wise and dignified gentleman, a proven friend of America for many years.
It was no surprise, then, that when the dire predictions came true six months later, Faisal stood resolutely, shoulder to shoulder, with his Arab brothers. Washington had again failed, through arrogance and ignorance, to appreciate the significance of linkage. Another significant episode took place several weeks after the Yom Kippur War had ended, but while the oil embargo was still in effect. In a personal letter to King Faisal dated Dec. 3, 1973, President Nixon included the following remarkable passages:
“Looking back over recent years, I recall the many times Your Majesty has written to me of your concern and of your conviction that we should do more to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. You have always given me wise counsel, and in retrospect your advice was well taken and should have been heeded.
“The latest war, and the shadow it has cast over our relations with many of our friends in the Middle East, has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the situation which has existed for so long can no longer be permitted to remain unresolved. The American people, while they feel a strong commitment to the security and survival of Israel, also harbor friendly feelings toward the Arab world and are well disposed to give responsible Arab views the attention they deserve. The American people have even understood how, in the heat of the recent war, the need to demonstrate solidarity with your Arab compatriots led Your Majesty to institute certain measures with respect to the production and supply of oil.
“With Your Majesty’s cooperation, I am prepared to devote the full energies of the U.S. to bringing about a just and lasting peace in the Middle East based on the full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, in the adoption of which my government played a major part. You have my total personal committment to work toward that goal.”
NOTE: The last sentence was added by President Nixon in his personal handwriting, with the word “total” underlined twice (and the word “commitment” misspelled.)
Richard M. Nixon
President of the United States
Mr. Close was the CIA Chief of Station in Saudi Arabia from 1970 to 1977.
[End of IHT article]