History’s Lessons (Still) Unlearned

I attended a rather eye-opening lecture last week by the very distinguished, and very British, historian Sir Alistair Horne on “Kissinger’s Diplomacy and the October 1973 War”, at the American University in Cairo. (Former Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher was there too).

Well, it seems Kissinger wasn’t all that bad a guy after all. He isn’t terribly pro-Arab or anything, not that we should expect him to be, but the point is he isn’t terribly pro-Israeli either. He’s pro-American first and foremost and his chief concerns at the time were the Cold War, Vietnam, opening up China and détente.

According to Sir Alistair, one person he didn’t get along well with was Golda Meir, whom he called ‘Ms Israel’ – not in good humour – while constantly looking at the Mideast, when he did take an occasional look at it, in Cold War terms. This would explain why the first thing Kissinger did when war broke out was phone up the Soviet Foreign Minister – whom he did like, considerably – sidelining both the Israelis and Egyptians, never mind that sorry, sad institution, the UN!

Kissinger didn’t want the Arabs to win, and wasn’t expecting them too, but he didn’t want the Israelis to win either, something that became increasingly apparent as the war slogged on. The Americans’ air-supply effort only began after the Soviets had begun resupplying the Arabs – beginning with Syria, actually, while they only got to Egypt as an afterthought. Kissinger’s actual justification to Nixon was that we should do this to be able to force the Israelis to the negotiating table, otherwise they’d have nothing to lose if we kicked them in the teeth – as he put it. An interesting altercation also developed concerning the resupply between Kissinger and a US Senator, where Kissinger, having become fed up with all the bullying concerning this, threatened to cut off supplies completely. Turns out this Senator was from the Zionist lobby!

I quizzed Sir Alistair on how independent Kissinger was of the Zionist lobby, and he replied that there was a history of troubles dating from Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson’s policy on the migration of Soviet Jews to Israel. (Scoop was also the original patron of the neo-conservatives, who positively hate Kissinger to this day!)Another thing I queried Horne about was Kissinger’s independence vis-à-vis the oil lobby, mentioning the revelations in Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler’s book, The Global Political Economy of Israel. That is, how the American oil companies had been informed beforehand by the Arab oil states of the impending war and how they’d stocked up for the oil shock – there never was any real shortage of oil in the US and the oil companies went along with the price rises to make a bundle out of the conflict!

Turns out Sir Alistair knew about all this, commenting approvingly on the book, telling me though that it seems Kissinger was none the wiser on these matters. His big blind spot was oil economics and, of equal importance, he didn’t expect a war to happen; hence, he didn’t expect an oil shock. Nixon, on the other hand, did! (Will have to take up that thread of analysis [much] later).

To finish off on an Arab note, we could learn a thing or two from Kissinger’s genuine admiration and affection for the dear departed Anwar el-Sadat. Kissinger described Sadat as a truly great leader because he wasn’t interested in the details, unlike leaders who think of themselves as great. I could think of quite a few Arab leaders that fit the bill, including the deposed and currently deceased leader of Iraq – God rest his soul and forgive him his many sins – and regimes likes his that insist on building their weapons facilities in broad daylight, like the Iraqis did with Osirak.

Not to mention that, sadly, the international community – Russia included – simply won’t allow Israel to be destroyed or even decisively defeated. The only option with them, it seems, is to take Horne’s advice and ‘make them feel secure’. Their overreaction to the October War victories, insistence on US resupply and genuine thinking about using the nuclear weapon against Egypt is indicative of a serious psychological problem. Alternatively, though, we could exploit their excessive fears and force them to the negotiating table, on our terms, like Hizbollah is doing currently in southern Lebanon, without even lifting a finger since it’s the Israelis who assassinated Imad Mughniyah. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!!

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