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Judith A. Klinghoffer.  Vietnam, Jews, and the Middle East.
Unintended Consequences. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.  256
pages. Bibliographical references and index.  $45.00 (cloth), ISBN
Reviewed for H-Diplo by David Kaiser <>,
History, Naval War College
Judith Klinghoffer has written a provocative, wide-ranging study of
the Six Day War and its relationship to broader currents of
international, Israeli and American politics in the years 1966-68.
Although the book is relatively short and its presentation is
flawed, it raises a host of fascinating historical questions that
demand further research, largely because of its broad scope.
Klinghoffer argues, to begin with, that the Six Day War occurred
largely because of the American involvement in Vietnam, and shows,
as few have, just how profound the broader foreign policy
consequences of the decision to fight in Vietnam may have been. The
Soviet Union, she shows convincingly, decided to respond to the
American involvement by opening a new front in the Cold War in the
Middle East.  In addition -- and here she amplifies a point I made
very briefly in my new book, _American Tragedy_ -- the war led the
United States to squander a position of influence that the Kennedy
Administration carefully had built up in Egypt with the help of huge
sales of American grain -- sales that were severely reduced after
Nasser opposed the Vietnam War. The Soviets, she believes,
encouraged the Arab states to attack Israel in the spring of 1967 in
response to the heavy American bombing of the Hanoi-Haiphong area,
and the United States found itself militarily helpless to do much to
prevent the war -- or, if need be, to defend Israel -- because of
its huge effort in the Pacific. Meanwhile, the Arabs and the Soviets
developed an analogy between the PLO and the NLF and an argument
that the wars in Southeast Asia and in the Middle East represented
two fronts in a common struggle against imperialism -- an argument
that became critical to the international politics of the 1970s.
Even though the Israeli government eventually persuaded Washington
to allow it to launch a pre-emptive strike, and Israeli Defense
Forces vanquished the Arabs, the consequences of the war for Israel,
she argues, were profound.  Until 1967 the Israelis had been trying
to remain on good terms with both superpowers and had carefully (and
quite successfully) cultivated emerging Third World Nations.
Afterwards, the Israeli government began to depend on its
relationship to the United States, gave some guarded ensorsement to
the American effort in Vietnam, and rapidly lost all its standing in
the Third World.  It also decided it had to develop its own nuclear
Other tantalizing diplomatic opportunities were squandered in the
wake of the war because of the Johnson Administration's commitment
to its maximum objectives in Vietnam.  Alexei Kosygin, who certainly
regretted the chance for detente that was lost as a result of that
conflict (see _American Tragedy_, pp.  469-70), hoped to settle both
the Middle Eastern and the Vietnamese conflicts at the same time,
but could not do so as long as Washington demanded what amounted to
a North Vietnamese surrender.  In an interesting sidelight,
Klinghoffer shows that the Israeli government and military wanted to
set up a Palestinian authority of some kind on the West Bank, but
that the United States opposed this because it did not want to
weaken Jordanian King Hussein!
The book also explores at some length the ways in which 1967 changed
the political role of the American Jewish community.  While that
community was at the forefront of the anti-Vietnam movement in
1965-6, Johnson used the crisis in the Middle East to try to bring
it onto his side, and the Six Day War itself inevitably increased
American Jewish identification with Israel and, eventually, with the
American power that ultimately protected Israel.  Although
Klinghoffer does not have the time or space necessary to develop
this point, she suggests that Neoconservatism was the ultimate
result of this trend.
This book, I think, provides much food for thought to those seeking
to integrate Vietnam into a broader history of the Cold War.  The
conservative line now so much in vogue suggests that our loss in
Vietnam led to Soviet offensives in Africa, Afghanistan, and Central
America, and that only Ronald Reagan reversed this trend.  Yet
Klinghoffer's book suggests to me that one could just as well argue
that the American decision to fight, rather than to negotiate a
settlement in Geneva in 1965, gave the international left a terrific
shot in the arm -- not least on American college campuses -- by
casting the US as the enemy of National Liberation movements.
Certainly, as I found, Vietnam ended serious efforts under Kennedy
to exert a moderating American influence on conflicts in the Middle
East and in South Asia , and the Johnson Administration seems to
have gone on a kind of offensive against the international left in
Brazil, Greece, Indonesia and Ghana, as well as in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the American government stopped putting pressure on
Portugal, Rhodesia, and South Africa to end white rule in Africa.
The United States did in the end win the Cold War, but its strategy
in many specific instances remains open to the most serious
I regret to report that Klinghoffer's book was very poorly edited by
St. Martin's Press.  It contains numerous typos and grammatical
slips, some of which impinge upon her meaning.  When for example she
quotes Dean Rusk (p.  189) as saying, "there will be a hairy period
when the Soviets will have to decide whether they will let Hanoi
fall without doing more in the way of assistance," I suspect Rusk
actually used the word "fail" rather than "fall," all the more so
because of the other typos that have slipped through.  (On the
previous page, she writes, "Johnson send [sic] a tough letter to
Kosygin reiterating that Israel would withdraw only the context
[sic] of peace.")  She is sometimes vague as to dates, and even
seems confused at times as to when McGeorge Bundy left the
government, claiming that he commissioned a post-Six Day War study
by the CIA roughly a year after he had stepped down.  Klinghoffer
also seems to have assembled a collection of fascinating scraps of
information about Soviet and Israeli policy, leaving the archival
work to fill in the picture to others. Perhaps however that is all
that could be done now, and despite these problems, this is a
wide-ranging, thought-provoking study.
Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 18/05/2000
S D Stein

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