“Splashy Demonstrations for Peace”: Camp David, Liberalism, and Empire, 1977–79

Sunday, January 10, 2016: 9:30 AM
Room A601 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Shaul Mitelpunkt, University of York
The Camp David peace process, negotiated by President Carter between 1977 and 1979, is remembered as one of America's greatest diplomatic triumphs. Singing peace between Egypt and Israel and suggesting a route for a more comprehensive regional agreement, it lent a civilian and humanistic attire to the US mission abroad, one that contrasted sharply with recent painful memories from the Vietnam War.  Encouraging Americans to see themselves once again as a capable force for good in the world, the ceremonies around Camp David provided a theatrical demonstration of the US’s alleged conversion from an expansionist military power to a benevolent, responsible and civilian negotiator of world affairs, figuratively trading the Vietnam War's napalm bomb for the diplomat's fountain pen. 

This paper examines the contradictions that defined the Camp David attempt to remake the contours of American empire according to a new progressive sensitivity. Sponsoring peace under American guidance, the Camp David agreement allowed for the considerable expansion of America's military capabilities, facilitating the militarization of U.S.-Israeli relations and increasing American naval presence in the Middle East from the late 1970s onwards. Relying on archival sources in Israel and the U.S., this paper shows that Camp David catered to both liberal and imperial designs of U.S. power, examining the ways the two co-existed and even supported one another in important ways.

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