- Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama by Dennis Ross
For Thucydides, truth was imperative. He labored to make his history as factually correct as possible, screening out the exaggerations and braggadocio that seem to accompany every war story. The reader had to experience the narrative as it actually occurred, and only through this experience could he ascertain the mistakes made and learn to avoid them, which, of course, was a paramount reason for writing a history to begin with. Dennis Ross follows this ancient virtue in his new book, Doomed to Succeed, which tackles the US-Israel relationship from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Ross points out the mistakes each presidential administration has made, often identical to those made by its predecessors; what needs to be done to make US policy viable; and how it can strengthen US security.
Ross begins with Truman’s recognition of the State of Israel minutes after Israel had declared its existence. This recognition was the subject of extremely bitter debate just prior to its announcement. George Marshall, the renowned former US Army chief of staff, had become secretary of state and relied heavily on the area experts in the State Department. They all believed the United States should distance itself from Israel in order to placate those Arab states on whom the world’s economy depended for oil. Truman felt otherwise. He thought it disgraceful that three years after the end of World War II hundreds of thousands of people were still living in displaced-persons camps in Europe or detention centers in Cyprus. He had tried earlier on several occasions to get the British to raise the immigration quotas to Palestine but had been unsuccessful. If [End Page 152] Israel became a sovereign independent nation, he thought, it would set its own immigration rates, and one unfortunate humanitarian problem would be solved.
American recognition raised Israelis’ morale significantly. They had seen the British leave, followed by the invasion of five modern armies from its surrounding neighbors, all proclaiming their desire to drive the Jews into the sea. Any recognition of their existence would be welcome, particularly by the world’s strongest power. One can speak of the psychological benefits of recognition at great length—and in today’s world one does—but on the battlefield where the lines of sovereignty were being drawn it had little effect. To show our neutrality we had banned arms shipments to all combatants, an act meaningful only in that it handicapped the Israelis, who had a limited supply of small arms smuggled into the country under the noses of the British. The Arab field armies, although not perhaps the most proficient, had artillery and tanks, which gave them a clear advantage, at least on paper.
Before criticizing the Department of State experts for their reticence, one should remember that there was a general feeling around the world that the Arabs were too numerous and too heavily armed for the approximately 587,000 Israelis to handle. The British, with their years of experience in the region, were presumed experts, and their foreign minister, Ernest Bevin, had said it would take 10,000 British soldiers to maintain peace in the area. Things, however, did not work out as the experts anticipated. An Israeli nation was born, borders were drawn, and immigration soared. Instead of two nations, which the United Nations had recommended, the former British Mandate was divided in three. Egypt ruled the city of Gaza and the surrounding area now called the Gaza Strip. The Kingdom of Trans-Jordan ruled the provinces of Judea and Samaria and part of Jerusalem, and since it was now on both sides of the Jordan River it changed its name to Jordan. Israel ruled the rest.
Ross notes that despite the defeats the Arabs suffered in these events, relations between the United States and the Arab countries continued as before. Certainly the oil-rich Arab states were unhappy with the...