As Zach Levey and David Rodman have most recently noted, Lyndon Johnson did not enter office with a substantial knowledge of or interest in Middle Eastern affairs. In his first 15 months as President, he paid almost no attention to the region: to the extent that he addressed foreign policy issues, he focused on the burgeoning
In 1962, the Kennedy administration supplied
Behind the scenes, the
Johnson’s initial encounter with the Arab-Israeli dispute revolved around several principles, as revealed in clips from this conversation with Abe Feinberg, a
First, the President worried about becoming a pawn in Israeli domestic politics, with Israeli leaders using access to the
President Johnson and Abe Feinberg, 20 February 1965, 11.00am
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President Johnson: I like Eshkol—I got along with him fine. I got along with Ben Gurion fine. I spent a lot of time with him, back when they were in real problems, and they were getting ready to [impose] sanctions [in 1963, over Dimona]. I just came down here and said, “Hell, no, that can’t be.”
Feinberg: I remember that.
President Johnson: And I stopped it.
But they fight among themselves over there, and I’m not going to get in the middle of one of these clashes—have one of them leak it on me that I want to join up with the Arabs.
Feinberg: I gather that, for proper diplomatic reasons, you think that [Foreign Minister] Golda’s [Meir] visit here would be—
President Johnson: I just think—I think it would inflame the whole world. I think that the Germans would wonder if she’s coming to mess in that thing. I think that the Arabs would say, “Good God, what’s Johnson doing in here?” I think the Jews would all start sending telegrams . . .
President Johnson: I can’t imagine her getting off with a suitcase without somebody saying, “Why?”
President Johnson: And then I don’t want to get another Arab/Ben Gurion/Eshkol/Erhard election in this thing if I can avoid it.