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The Middle East and Truman

James Chace has written a biography entitled Acheson. The Secretary of State who Created the American World. The rather hyperbolic title expresses the author's estimation of the man who among other things was behind the creation of NATO and the Bretton Woods conference from which came the World Bank and the IMF. What Chace says about the Middle East is relevant to our discussion of the recognition of the state of Israel. Informed Europeans were opposed to it, as were many Americans, including numerous Jews, who realized the possible consequences. General Marshall and Dean Acheson, who knew the world far better than Truman, opposed it. Marshall threatened to resign if Truman recognized Israel, and Acheson was also opposed, though more quietly . Truman insisted, and Marshall agreed to stay on. Chace says Truman's decision was personal and was not dictated by economic considerations. Chace confirms the report that Truman consulted a Jewish friend who had been his partner in a haberdashery business in St. Louis which went bankrupt. It was this friend who persuaded Truman to recognize Israel. One weakness of the American system is that the "imperial presidency" can be held by someone with an inadequate grasp of foreign affairs. Acheson opposed Kennedy's election when he was running against Stuart Symington, but served as his adviser later. When Kennedy told him that he planned what became known as the Bay of Pigs, Acheson was incredulous, but Kennedy went ahead. He regretted later that he had not followed Acheson's advice. War may begin in the minds if men, but it can also begin in the mind of one man ignorant of the complexities of world affairs. Hitler and Stalin would top a very long list. Even Presidents are usually elected for domestic reasons and then become a world leader in international affairs, an explosive non-sequitur. Assuming we want to avoid World War III, what can be done about it?

Ronald Hilton - 5/4/02