The Lesson of Iraq

"Let us not forget that our essential policy interests are identical with those of the Arabs"

And not only among civilians but in the military, too, discontent was strong. Like the civilians, many officers had studied abroad, and all had acquired more than the manual of arms from the British and American military missions. In the process of acquiring Western technical skills, they also acquired Western values and expectations. In addition to those desires felt by their civilian counterparts, they were also "haunted by the shame of the army's performance in the 1948 Palestine war, and they placed the blame squarely on the government. Secretly they formed a free officers movement. Of this the government was aware and showed it distrusted the army by purges, political promotions to safe sinecures, and by such obvious devices as keeping the troops short of ammunition. The marriage of suspicion and fear seldom begets loyalty, and it did not in Iraq.

Given this frustration, the obvious lack of trust, the need to rely upon a large secret political police force, the lack of organization and personnel to take the place of the aging premier, the collapse of the arch could not have been long in coming.

Now, turning from Iraq to Jordan, what do we find to reassure us? Is the Jordanian government more popular, better able to satisfy the growing expectations of its elite, and more self-reliant than was the Iraqi government of Nuri?

Whereas Iraq had the potential to satisfy at least some of the desires of its growing middle class, Jordan is both a poor country and a refugee country. As Aneurin Bevan accurately if unkindly said in the Parliamentary debates on the Middle East crisis of July, "Jordan is a kept country and King Hussein is a kept king." Just how true this is probably few Americans realize. Since 1954, the American government has given Jordan over $100 million, which is about $100 for each nonnomadic person in the country. From the end of the war until 1957, Britain gave Jordan (or Transjordan, as part of it was known in the earlier years) over £82 million, or the equivalent of $230 million. Since 1950, the United Nations has spent approximately $110 million in Jordan, sustaining and providing work for the Palestinian refugees settled there. And, when Jordan broke with Great Britain and fired General Glubb, the Arab states began contributing lesser amounts. Saudi Arabia, for example, gave $14 million in 1957. In the current year only one quarter of the Jordanian budget of nearly $100 million can be met from internal resources, and in default of funds expected from Iraq, Jordan has become an American ward.

For whatever long-range objectives our money is spent, its short-term effect is to shore up the government of King Hussein. Our wholesale support of the King necessarily brings to us whatever assets and liabilities he has in the public mind, for if we are willing to pay his bills he must surely stand for those things we wish to achieve in the Middle East. And whatever our aims are, they are not likely to be achieved in the face of overwhelming public hostility.

The Jordanian population of 1.5 million divides into three groups of almost equal size. One third is Bedouin, mostly illiterate, uninterested in ideology, and affected neither by Arab nationalism nor by the general stimulus of Western culture. This group is incapable of performing the semi-complex functions required even by the simple economy of Jordan, and if trained to perform these jobs the Bedouins would become subject to precisely those currents of thought which have so agitated their urban cousins. Thus the Bedouins are neither a short-term nor a long-term support for the government except in the way they are now being used, as the policemen of the state.

Presented by

The author of What the Arabs Think and co-author of Backdrop to Tragedy, William R. Polk is a member of the center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard. As a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation he lived for several years in the Middle East, and this article was written in an American interval before he returned to the area under discussion. More

William R. Polk served in President John F. Kennedy's administration, where he was the member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for much of the Islamic world, including Afghanistan. He later became professor of history at the University of Chicago and president of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. He is the author of 17 books including Understanding Iraq, Violent Politics and Understanding Iran. He is now at work on a book on Afghanistan to be entitled The Cockpit of Asia. His website is

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