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What Was the Cold War in the Middle East Between 1955 and 1973.

What Was the Cold War in the Middle East Between 1955 and 1973.

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Published by: IslamicRedemption on Feb 07, 2012
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Diplomatic relations between Middle Eastern states and foreign powersrevolved around attempts not only to secure their own political interests in theregion, but also to halt the advance of their adversaries. For instance, whenlooking at the 1955 Baghdad Pact, such intent towards the region on the part of Western states is made apparent. While it was Turkey which initially proposed thepact during February 1955, the stated aim of solidifying the Middle East in face of the Soviet Union proved enough to prompt the British to join the pact on April 5
,1955. The old British tactics of indirect rule and base agreements were becomingobsolete due to the rise in Arab nationalism which, coupled with British inability tomeet the tactical demands of counter-acting Soviet influence alone, made thepact a most politically expedient move. Furthermore, there was the additionalbenefit of limiting Russian influence in the region, an issue of key importance. Of course from the Soviet perspective, not to mention of other Arab states Such asEgypt and Saudi Arabia, such a pact was simply a means by which Westerninfluence could be extended in the region, and thus opinion in the region becamepolarized as a result. The Soviets also viewed such alliances as a part of the ColdWar struggle, and regarded the pact simply as means of establishing Westernmilitary bases close to their somewhat vulnerable south-western border with theregion.
The Americans viewed the potential effectiveness of the pact with acertain degree of suspicion, though at the same time they considered it as a oneof the possible ways of countering the Soviet Union, which made them adopt atleast a nominal interest in it.
Whilst in the end it very quickly dissolved, theBaghdad Pact does set the tone for the period in question, in that it demonstratesWestern commitment to intervening in Middle Eastern politics so that countrieswould not capitulate to Communism, or even to indirect Soviet influence. It alsoestablishes the Arab distrust held towards not only foreign powers, but alsotowards other Arabs, setting the apparatus for the so-called Arab Cold War”against the backdrop of the more substantial conflict..Whilst foreign powers worked to achieve their coveted objectives, Arableaders also worked to achieve theirs. The Middle East during the Cold War saw
1Behcet Kemal Yesilbursa,
The Baghdad Pact: Anglo-American Defense Policies in the Middle East, 1950-1959
(NewYork: Frank Cass, 2005), pg. 216-217.2Behcet Kemal Yesilbursa,
The Baghdad Pact 
, pg. 219.
the rise of Arab Nationalism, an idea which was concerned only with Arabinterests. Thus it would subsequently permit its followers to blur the line betweenwhich allies they took diplomatically, and gave sanction to move from supportingone side along with the other, using both for the political benefit of their own Arabstate. The premier example of this would be the Egyptian President Gamal 'Abdan-Nasir, who frequently oscillated diplomatically between Western states and theSoviet Union. In 1955, the Soviet Union realized that they shared a commonalitywith Abd an-Nasir in terms of anti-Western ideas, leading to cordial relations, notto mention negotiations for arms deal as early as 1955.
By 1957, 'Abd an-Nasirhad become so popular, that whatever political positions he took would beaccepted by the Arab masses. It was for this reason that, despite his attacksagainst the Eisenhower Administration, American analysts viewed him as key forthe achievement of their objectives within the region.
And of course, whilst 'Abdan-Nasir was anti-Western, he put himself in a rather odd ideological position byalso being anti-Communist. This lead to his also attracting Western support viaoffers to attack Arab Communists in return for trade and economic aid, culturalexchanges, and military training.
The inconsistency in 'Abd an-Nasir's position,and his playing one power off against the other, was remarked upon by the
newspaper, which remarked upon the formation of the UAR that: “Aslong as Syria and Egypt continued to accept massive Soviet aid, they can hardlyclaim to be stemming Communist influence.”
When looking away from the more diplomatic exchanges between Arabstates and their foreign neighbors, we also realize that the Cold War producedepisodes of political subversion and despotism. The period in question has seenmultiple instances where foreign powers had installed and supported authoritarianregimes which, while ruling in a distinctly illiberal fashion, nevertheless gave theforeign powers what it was they desired in that specific case. For the West inparticular, the establishment of democracy was by no means as important assecuring natural resources for the purpose of enhancing its strategic strength in
3Panayiotis J. Vatikiotis,
 Nasser And His People
(London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1978), pg. 232.4Roby C. Barrett,
The Greater Middle East and the Cold War: U.S Foreign Policy Under Eisenhower and Kennedy
(London: I.B Tauris, 2007), pg. 43.5Roby C. Barrett,
The Greater Middle East and the Cold War 
, pg. 48.6‘Egypt, Syria: Shotgun Wedding,’
, 10 February 1958, p. 52, in Roby C. Barrett,
The Greater Middle East and the Cold War: U.S Foreign Policy Under Eisenhower and Kennedy
(London: I.B Tauris, 2007), pg. 48.
the face of the Soviets, and supporting whatever authority would be able to stampout communist influences, even if it were a despotic one. Whilst Middle Easternnations had begun developing more democratic forms of government during the1940s and 1950s, the succeeding decades saw not the advancement, but ratherthe reversal of this state.
In fact, when making his summation of the legacy of foreign intervention, Rahsid Khalidi remarks: “...what is certain is that the covertand occasional overt interventions of the superpowers from World War II onward,besides exacerbating regional conflict...profoundly undermined whatever limitedpossibility there might have been of establishing any kind of democraticgovernance in a range of Middle Eastern countries from the late 1950s andthrough the 1970s and 1980s.”
When mentioning specific examples, it would first be potent to mention the1953 CIA/MI6 inspired coup against Mossadegh in Iran. While the coup itself occurs just outside the period in question, the rule of the succeeding Reza ShahPahlavi extends across the entirety of the given time frame, and serves as aneffective illustration of the previously mentioned points. It is well known, andplainly stated even by the CIA itself, that the Americans undertook the operationbecause they felt that Iran was in danger of capitulating to Communist rule. Inaddition, there was the issue of maintaining access to the vast oil reserves of thecountry.
After his installation, the policies of the Shah dissatisfied the populationto the point of political protest on 3
June, 1963, which was quickly put down.After this event, the Shah dissolved the parliament and centralized authority in hisown hands, in addition to rigidly controlling media, and using the SAVAK (secretpolice), to appropriately deal with any other political opposition.
However, giventhat American political interests had been procured, these events were of noparticular concern, and thus the rule of the Shah continued until the revolution in1979.A second example would be the 1963 coup which ousted the Iraqi PrimeMinister 'Abd al-Karim Qasim in Iraq. Whilst Qasim was by no means a democrat
7Rashid Khalidi,
Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East 
(Boston: Beacon Press,2011), pg. 159.8Rashid Khalidi,
Sowing Crisis
, pg. 200.9Mark J. Gasiorowski, 'The CIA Looks Back at the 1953 Coup in Iran,'
Middle East Report 
216 (2000): pg. 5.10Misagh Parza, 'Iran From 1919,' in
The New Cambridge History of Islam, Vol.5: Islam in the Age of Western Domination
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pg. 496-497.

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