The Lesson of Iraq

A gem from the Atlantic archive, William R. Polk’s “The Lesson of Iraq” from our December 1958 issue. His bottom line:

What, in effect, do we want from the Middle East? Any answer must be tentative and subject to revision periodically. At the present, the answer seems to me to be sufficient peace to prevent a world war and a sufficient flow of oil to maintain the European economy. The first is the common interest of most Arabs, who are in earnest when they insist on “positive neutralism.” Of the second, two points must be made: on the one hand, Europe now depends for 80 per cent of her oil on the Middle East, but she could be supplied, admittedly at greater cost, from other sources. On the other hand, the sale of oil is the major source of revenue for many of the Arab countries and is the only hope for those who plan, as does the new generation of nationalists, large-scale development programs—and the only customer for all of the Middle Eastern oil is Europe. Let us not forget that our essential policy interests are identical with those of the Arabs.

I think that this continues to contain a lot of wisdom. Certainly, to follow one of the main themes of the piece, our efforts to micro-manage domestic political outcomes in the Arab world haven’t had a ton of success.

Photo by Flickr user skampy used under a Creative Commons license