Journal of Cold War Studies 6.2 (2004) 89-92
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William B. Quandt, Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001. 488 pp.
No topic in contemporary international affairs is more depressing and devoid of hope than the Arab-Israeli conflict. Almost fifty-five years after the re-creation of the state of Israel, the region seems as volatile as it was at any point over the last half-century. Against the backdrop of today's headlines—a failed peace process, intifada, suicide [End Page 89] bombings, an Israeli incursion into Syria, expanding Israeli settlements in contested territories, despair plaguing the Palestinian people—reading William B. Quandt's Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967 makes for a curiously dispiriting experience. After all, if the results of nearly forty years of sedulous peacemaking efforts by the U.S. government, by the Israeli government, and by the Palestinian Authority are so meager, what hope is there for real peace?
As Quandt shows in his impressive albeit numbingly thorough chronicle of the attempts by seven U.S. presidents to establish a lasting coexistence in the Middle East,it is not for lack of trying. Since 1967, all U.S. presidents have expended significant time on bringing Israel and its neighbors to the negotiating table—though some presidents have expended more energy than others, as Quandt makes clear. Indeed, Peace Process is in one sense a compilation of report cards handed down by Professor Quandt to each of the seven presidents—and he is not an easy grader of his surrogate students.
For Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, the Arab-Israeli conflict was primarily a Cold War issue. Johnson was preoccupied with Vietnam and saw the Middle East as yet another area in which the Soviet Union had to be contained. Nixon's presidency was consumed by the Watergate scandal, but even before that the Middle East ranked a distant fourth on his list of foreign policy priorities—after Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and China. When Nixon and Henry Kissinger did consider the Arab- Israeli situation, they tended to view it through a Cold War prism. It took the October 1973 war (Quandt never uses the term "Yom Kippur War") to yank Nixon and Kissinger out of their simplistic Cold War framework and to infuse them with a determination to understand the problem in all its regional specificity. In fact, although Kissinger is famous for his Middle East "shuttle diplomacy," the reader of Peace Process learns that, were it not for the Cold War angles being played out in theArab-Israeli conflict, Kissinger would not have taken the slightest interest in the region.
By 1974 the Cold War component of the Arab-Israeli conflict was already beginning to wane, as Arab leaders—Anwar Sadat in particular—realized that Washington, not Moscow, was the place to get results. All roads to Jerusalem ran through Washington. Much to Leonid Brezhnev's chagrin, the Arab countries soon were requesting that the Soviet Union be excluded from peace negotiations. Although the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 briefly returned Cold War concerns to the forefront of the U.S. government's strategic analysis of the Middle East, the 1973 war marked the beginning of the end for Soviet influence in the Arab world. By the time President Gerald Ford left office, Egypt had abrogated its treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union.
The chapters on Jimmy Carter are the most vivid in the book, especially Quandt's breathless account of the Camp David negotiations and the many fascinating details he provides on the mechanics of the summit. (Quandt served on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Nixon and Carter and was a key participant in the Camp David talks.) Quandt rather affectionately describes Carter as a trained engineer who "seemed to believe complex problems could best be tackled by careful study, detailed planning, and comprehensive designs" and as an optimist who [End Page...