Who Can Salvage Peace?

Decade of Decisions: American Policy Toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1967-1976

by William B. Quandt
University of California Press, 321 pp., $4.95 (paper)

No other issue in American foreign policy raises more passions than the relation of the United States to Israel. The “reassessment” decreed by Henry Kissinger after the failure, in March 1975, of his first attempt at reaching a new disengagement agreement between Israel and Egypt provoked a storm. So did the Carter administration’s recent decision to put planes for Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia into a single package. The books by William Quandt and Nadav Safran help to put such events and arguments in perspective. Their very excellence contributes to the reader’s sense of foreboding.

Quandt, a political scientist from the University of Pennsylvania and a specialist on the Arab world, is now in charge of Middle Eastern Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. His book examines American policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1967. He distinguishes four ways of interpreting American policy: from the perspectives of strategic or national interests, of domestic politics, of bureaucratic politics, and of presidential leadership; and he analyzes the policies, plans, improvisations, and miscalculations made in Washington during the past ten years. He offers no over-all interpretation of his own, and little consideration of American domestic politics.

Nadav Safran’s enormous book has a much wider scope. Safran, a Harvard political scientist who was born in Egypt and at one time lived in Israel, has written extensively about Egypt, Israel, and American policy toward Israel. In Israel: The Embattled Ally, he has in effect produced two studies and put them under the same cover. One is a superb and comprehensive account of Israel itself—its origins in Zionism and its struggles for existence, the characteristics of its people, economy, constitution, and its party politics, and, finally, the problem of national defense since 1949, which allows Safran to describe in some detail the wars of 1967 and 1973.

Roughly the last three hundred pages of his book are a separate history of US-Israeli relations since 1949 which covers much the same ground as Quandt’s study. Here Safran is concerned with the “long-standing special relationship” between the two countries which, in the past ten years, has turned into the “present tacit alliance” and may well result, should there be a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute, in a formal mutual security pact. I am not convinced, however, that the events Safran and Quandt deal with are best understood by concentrating on the theme of a special relationship.

The tone of the two books is different. Quandt is immersed in the details of his subject, and carefully documents his interpretations of events. Safran covers immense ground with a sort of Olympian equanimity. He tries to show all sides of all issues, putting each phase of US-Israeli relations into the wider context of American, Arab, and Soviet foreign policies, and thus provides the reader with a prodigious synthesis. While his interpretations seem invariably fair and balanced, I regret his decision to include no footnotes, only a vast bibliography; it would often have …

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Letters

Boggled November 23, 1978