America's Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, by Hugh Wilford.
Americans had ventured into the Arab world for many decades prior to the end of World War Two. Much of this time, the interaction was driven by private means: missionaries, universities, archeologists, charitable organizations. For those Americans exposed to this world, the overwhelming description that could be applied would be to label these as Arabists: understanding and appreciating both the Arab people and the Arab culture.
This was even true in the early years of official US government intervention in the region. In many ways, it couldn’t be otherwise: the early “official” Americans – for example, the cousins Kim and Archie Roosevelt – were introduced into this Arab world by the Americans who were already there, those already sympathetic to the Arab people: the missionaries, university presidents archeologists, and leaders of charitable organizations.
So what changed? This is to be explored next by Wilford.
The excuse began with communism. President Truman formally announced the beginning of the Cold War in March 1947, announcing that the United States would provide aid to those countries threatened by communism. With this came the Marshall plan, the establishment of a permanent civilian intelligence agency, and the National Security Act. But the story begins earlier.
What about Palestine, Arabs, Jews and Zionists? Historically the US stayed out of this issue, leaving it to Britain and their 1922 League of Nations mandate. During this mandatory period: Jewish immigration, Arab revolts, Jewish terrorist acts…the tension was ever-increasing and the British appetite for continuing on – not to mention their financial wherewithal – was waning.
In the meantime, Zionists in America – supported by a faction of Christians who saw the creation of the state of Israel as bringing the world one step closer to their desired Armageddon – were making headway. Newspaper advertisements, Jewish survivors from Europe, lobbying congress: a focused effort to gain support from the US government to the Zionist cause.
The Roosevelt administration was reluctant to support the Zionist cause. This reluctance was based on the view of the Middle East experts in the State Department – they were primarily Arabists at the time; the entirety of American experience in the Middle East until this time was in support of and sympathetic to the Arabs. Support for a Jewish state would turn the Arabs away from America, toward the communists.
Further, many of the Jews that were lobbying for a Jewish state were socialists themselves – imagine…the US government supporting Zionist socialists in order to turn the Arabs into socialists in league with the Soviets!
To say nothing of the oil: as one State Department analyst described the Saudi oil fields, “the greatest single prize in all of history.” Lend-Lease dollars were flowing into Saudi Arabia after FDR declared the country of vital strategic importance in 1943. And the king of this vitally strategic country had a strong opinion on the topic at hand:
…Ibn Saud was implacably opposed to Zionism and deeply suspicious of American intentions in Palestine.
The Saudis were secretly approached with development money to support the Jewish cause; he rejected the proposal “angrily, as an attempted bribe.” (My, how times have changed.)