Senior Thesis on the Eisenhower Administration’s Approach to the Rise of Arab Nationalism

Kelly Peterman, Class of 2007

The week of August 7–11, 2006, I traveled to the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas, to gather primary sources for my senior thesis on how the Eisenhower Administration chose to confront the Arab nationalism movement in the Middle East. My purpose at the Presidential archives was to find a wide range of documents from different voices within the government. I worked to find sources that point to the differences of opinion within the Eisenhower administration, in order to tease out the decision-making process within the foreign policy bureaucracy. I gathered sources specifically documenting the evolution of U.S. Cold War policy in the region, finding documents that would help me analyze how the administration dealt with the revolution in Egypt in 1952, the Suez Crisis in 1956, and the nationalist revolution in Iraq in 1958. I was specifically focusing on documents that revealed the divergent opinions on how to handle these momentous developments, notably the policy debate regarding the formation of the Baghdad Pact in 1955, the declaration of the Eisenhower Doctrine in 1957, and the lead-up to the decision to send Marines to Lebanon in 1958.

The sources I found were varied in their voice and origin. Ranging from CIA intelligence analysis documents to the reports of area specialists in the State Department and analysts on the ground at U.S. embassies, to the more ideologically-guided policy papers of the President and his advisors, specifically Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, I found what I think is a good representative collection of the different points of view competing for dominance over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The documents are complex and intriguing. They reveal how the U.S. government at times simply fell back on its Cold War assumptions, such as the belief that anyone who did not side with the Western powers was necessarily a Communist. At other times, they reveal surprising nuance (especially compared to the voices coming from allies like Britain) in its analysis of the multiple forces at play in the region—Western, Soviet, nationalist, and neutralist alike. My research at the Eisenhower Library yielded more than 600 pages of documents from every branch of the government. These formed an excellent base of primary sources for my thesis research. Some of these documents only recently have been declassified and quite a few were not included in the Foreign Relations of the United States publications, so I hope that a successful synthesis of some of these less-common sources will shed new light on an important and under-analyzed period in the history of American foreign relations.